Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THAT THE DIVINE WORKS PRESENT A TRIUMPHANT CHALLENGE TO HUMAN INTELLIGENCE. (Ver. 2.) Can man surpass them? Can he even imitate them? What can he do but silently admire them, and adore the Author of them? Therefore the serious contemplation of the works of God is well fitted to silence an ignorant criticism, and quell the idle murmurs of discontent. To trace his power, wisdom, and fatherly love through the various departments of the visible universe is to deepen in our minds faith in his order. We in some way are instruments for promoting that order, and shall be blessed in proportion to our active or resigned compliance with its laws.
II. THE STUDY OF THE DIVINE ORDER, THEN, IS FITTED, NOT ONLY TO SILENCE THE CAVILS OF A SHORT-SIGHTED CRITICISM, BUT TO PRODUCE BOTH FAITH AND HUMILITY. (Vers. 3-5.) This is the effect on the mind of Job. He feels his littleness in presence of the infinite Intelligence; and, laying his hand upon his mouth, makes the resolve of silence for the future from all questioning of his Maker. Thus silently, as the storms and frosts of winter give place to the genial warmth and gentle influences of spring, is this proud and passionate heart, which want of sympathy and injustice at the hands of man had stung into proud self-consciousness and presumptuous appeals to God, softened by the voice and revelation of God himself into the heart of a little child. When we see ourselves as we are, because seeing ourselves in relation to him; when we are convinced of our insignificance in ourselves, and of the greatness of that grace which alone sheds a true value and significance upon our lives, peace begins to be shed through the heart, and in the silence of a true submission we wait for that which God may further have to speak to us, instead of assailing him with the clamour of passion and ignorance. - J.
I. WE ARE TEMPTED TO CONTEND WITH GOD.
1. By our liberty. We have freedom of thought as well as freedom of will. Thus we seem to be able to turn round and take up a position of our own in opposition to God.
2. By our trouble. It was great distress that drove Job into a contention with God. We do not find him attempting or desiring anything of the kind in the opening scene of the story. When trouble comes upon us we are displeased, and not seeing why it is sent we are tempted to murmur.
3. By our sin. Even Job, innocent as regards the gross charges of his three censors, was imperfect, as he is now brought to admit. Now, sin is opposition to God, and the attempt to justify it leads to contention with God.
4. By God's forbearance. Because he is long-suffering we presume upon his patience. We are like Jacob wrestling with the "Traveller unknown," who only maintained the conflict so long as his mysterious Antagonist refrained from putting forth his strength (Genesis 32:24-32).
II. WE ARE WRONG IN CONTENDING WITH GOD. This contention shows faults in us.
1. Ignorance. If we knew all, we should see how foolish the whole contention was. But we stumble into it in our confusion and folly.
2. Rebellion. Oar business is to submit and obey. When we dispute we are resisting, if only mentally.
3. Distrust. God is not trusted when we venture to oppose ourselves to him; for if he were we should be silent, not perhaps understanding his action, but possessing our souls in patience, and waiting for the final disclosure that is to explain God's treatment of his children.
III. IT IS USELESS FOR US TO CONTEND WITH GOD. Our position in relation to God does not offer us a chance of success.
1. Inequality. This is a contest of feebleness with almightiness. How can the finite hope for a victory in wrestling with the Infinite?
2. Incompetence. We do not know how to put our ease before God, and his action is not understood by us. Therefore our contention is confused and misleading. There is only one way of coming to terms with God, and that is to accept his terms.
IV. IT IS NEEDLESS FOR US TO CONTEND WITH GOD. We are not left with the doleful prospect of simply submitting to the inevitable. Although we cannot see the good in God's action, if only we have faith in him we may rest assured that he is doing just the very best thing for us and all his creatures. This assurance depends on his nature and character. He is a just God and a Saviour, and therefore he cannot be acting unjustly and injuriously. Our indictment of God's goodness is a huge blunder from beginning to end. Let us but trust his goodness in the dark and in the face of the most distressful events, and in the end we shall see that our safety lies in submission. - W.F.A.
I. IT IS AN ATTITUDE BECOMING MAN IN PRESENCE OF THE HOLINESS AND MAJESTY OF THE DIVINE NAME.
II. IT IS AN ATTITUDE BECOMING TO THE SINFULNESS OF MAN. Where should the creature so full of imperfection be found but in the dust?
III. IT IS AN ATTITUDE BECOMING ONE, WHO HAS A JUST ESTIMATE OF HIS RELATION OF DEPENDENCE UPON THE WISDOM AND POWER OF JEHOVAH. One so wholly frail and dependent - a poor worm - may well bow in lowly, humble prostration before the Lord of the whole earth.
IV. IT IS AN ATTITUDE BECOMING TO HIM WHO HAS RIGHTLY REFLECTED UPON THE GREATNESS, MAJESTY, AND GLORY OF GOD, AND HIS OWN LITTLENESS AND INSIGNIFICANCE IN PRESENCE THEREOF. This was precisely Job's case. And it is the precursor of that lifting up which is granted only to them who are truly bowed down. - R.G.
I. THE VISION OF GOD IN HIS WORKS HUMBLES US. Job has seen a succession of vivid pictures of the works of God in nature. They all transcend human efforts. Then how great must the Author of nature be! How small are we in his awful presence! Pride is always a form of godlessness. We forget God when we exalt ourselves. Our self-exaltation is only possible while we shut ourselves up in a little world. When we see God we are humbled. Now, this is not only because God is supremely powerful. There is some heroism in the weak maintaining their right in the presence of the strong. But God's greatness in nature is seen in intellectual and moral features. The wonderful thought of God impressed upon his works reveals a mind infinitely greater than the human mind; and the care with which God provides for all his creatures - wild asses, heedless ostriches, and repulsive ravens, as well as those creatures that seem more deserving of his providence - shows us how good God is. Thus the wisdom and goodness of God, added to the power that makes resistance useless, crown the revealed character of God with glory, and invite our humble adoration.
II. SILENCE BEFORE GOD IS THE TRUE EXPRESSION OF HUMILITY. It cannot be said that Job is as yet deeply conscious of sin. The "vileness" of which he makes confession is rather his mean estate, his poor, feeble, human helplessness, than moral guilt. Therefore it does not need to be made much of, or regarded as anything like a full confession. It is, however, the mark of humility to admit it, and then to relapse into silence. This is the Condition to which the great argument of the drama is designed to bring its readers. We are too busy with our own performances in religion. In prayer we have too many words to speak to God. We are always telling him what he knows already, and often dictating to him what we think he should be doing, instead of patiently waiting for his voice and humbly submitting to his will. There is room for more silence in religion and in all life.
III. SILENT HUMILITY IS A PREPARATION FOR EXALTATION, At the end of the book we discover that God exalts Job and loads him with favour and prosperity. But he must be humbled first. The later honour is only possible after Job has abased himself. So long as he justified himself and arraigned the justice of God, he could not be restored and exalted. Thus the poem shows to us the way in which God disciplines his servants and prepares them to enjoy his goodness. Humility is the door to honour. This is a very Christian truth. It is taught by Christ: "Whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted." It is gloriously illustrated in the life and death and exaltation of Christ (see Philippians 2:5-11). - W.F.A.
I. REBUKE OF THE PRESUMPTION WHICH DOUBTS OF THE JUSTICE OF GOD. (Vers. 6-14.) Once again is Job summoned to gird up his loins and prepare for the contest with Divine reason. Let, then, these questions receive an answer from the murmurer's and the doubter's lips. Will man "disannul" or bring to nought the justice of God? For this he seems to aim at who would place his own notions of what is right in the place of the Divine. Or, if man would enter on this competition, has he the means to carry out the strife? has he the arm, the power of God? can he wield the thunder of Omnipotence? Let the experiment be tried. Let man clothe himself with the Divine attributes, at least in fancy; let him put on glory and pride, splendour and pomp. Let his anger break forth in fiery floods, and let him overwhelm all the pinnacles of human pride. Let him as just judge cast the wicked clown; strew them in the dust before his righteous retribution. Let man do these things, and Jehovah will praise him, and there will be no need of self-praise and boasting, because his right hand helps him; because he actually possesses the power to carry out his ideas of justice and make them prevail on the earth (comp. Psalm 45:4; Isaiah 59:18; Isaiah 63:5). If man can do none of these things, how can he venture to challenge him who alone can and does execute judgment in the earth? God does ever punish and destroy the wicked, and is ever ready to help the faithful; can man excel or equal God in his ideas or practice of righteousness? "The Lord says to Job, Shall my judgment, by which I either afflict the godly or declare all men to be liars, be empty and vain in thy opinion? Doth it behove me to be unjust, that thy justice may stand? Thou art indeed just, and thou hast my testimony to this (ch. 2.), but it shall not therefore be lawful for thee to slander the judgments of God in affliction." "They who ascribe to themselves in their own strength righteousness before God, simply condemn God and make his judgment void, as if he had not the competence and power to judge and condemn them (Romans 3:4)" (Cramer).
II. REBUKE OF JOB'S PRIDE; DESCRIPTION OF THE GREAT BEASTS. (Ver. 15-41:84.) These two vast monsters, behemoth and leviathan, are types of God's creative power. Their gigantic strength fills feeble man with wonder; and yet they are but as toys in the hand of the Almighty. They are subject to the Divine will; and in them we are to see an exemplification of the manner in which God subdues the pride of the creature. The behemoth. (Vers. 15-24.) This huge and terrible animal is a fellow-creature of Job, an effect of the same almighty power. Let Job consider him, and perceive how small and feeble in the presence of God are all created existences, and of how little avail is all haughty and proud confidence in external things before him. Then follows the striking description of the power of the hippopotamus, or horse of the Nile, uniting elasticity with firmness, so that he is "a firstling of the ways of God'" or a masterpiece of the Creator. Everything about this creature is noteworthy; his sword-like, gigantic teeth; his fodder, which whole mountain tracts supply. As he lies among the reeds and lotus-plants, taking his noonday repose, he is the very image of living force. Were a river, a very Jordan, to force its way into his mouth, he could make light of it. Yet this huge beast is entirely in the power of God. His size and strength avail him nought, if God has determined to destroy him. How aptly says the Roman poet, "Force devoid of judgment sinks beneath its own weight; while that which is self-controlled Heaven advances in greatness. God hates the strength that sets in motion ill with the mind" (Her., 'Od.,' 3. 4)! He, amidst the obscure notions of the pagan mythology, still sees clearly the truth here and in so many Scriptures set forth, that no might, bestial, human, or superhuman, can stand against that will which is of almighty power and absolute righteousness. - J.
I. MURMURING AT PROVIDENCE IS IMPUGNING GOD'S JUSTICE. This may not be clearly seen or admitted at once. The connection between the occurrences of human history and the Divine mind that controls them is not visible to the eye of sense. Thus we may complain freely of what God does without intending to charge God with wrong. And yet this is what the complaint leads to and involves. If we do not believe that things fall out by chance, and if we do not hold that the world is administered at present by a lower providence, we must be virtually impugning the justice of God when we object to what we cannot deny to be his actions. It may be desirable that complaints should be pushed to their ultimate results, for then we shall see whether they are reasonable or not. If we are persuaded that God is just, we shall see that it is unwise and wrong to murmur at what happens to us in the course of providence.
II. WE ARE TEMPTED TO IMPUGN GOD'S JUSTICE. God seemed to be acting unjustly to Job. The present aspect of the world is not that which we should expect from a fair and equitable ruler. Our own lives are subjected to rude shocks that strike us as perplexingly unjust.
1. There is injustice arising from unjust men. Job was unjustly treated, not by God, but by his three friends. We should not charge God with the sins of our own brethren.
2. We cannot see the whole of God's plan. The opening appears to be unfair. But wait for the end. God's justice is large and far-reaching. It will be revealed when the whole sweep of his dealings with us is comprehended. The arc ends in an acute angle. Only the complete circle is without a break and smooth throughout.
III. IT IS BOTH FOOLISH AND WRONG TO IMPUGN GOD'S JUSTICE,
1. It is foolish. We are not in a position to judge; we do not know all the facts, and our standard of judgment is perverted by our own prejudices and unjust claims. The tyro cannot wisely criticize the achievements of the master.
2. It is wrong. If we knew God we should not charge ]aim foolishly. But we should know him if we drew near to him in the right spirit. Too often our doubt of God's justice is not so much the product of a purely intellectual difficulty as the result of a moral fault. It shows lack of faith in his goodness, and it springs from a miserable weakness that will not venture to trust God.
IV. CHRISTIAN FAITH FORBIDS US TO IMPUGN GOD'S JUSTICE. Even Christ does not clear up the mystery, and still we have to walk by faith. We cannot yet see that God is dealing justly with us. But we have good grounds for confidence in our Lord's revelation of the nature and character of God. Christ shows us the fatherly nature of God. He makes us see that God is good and full of love for his children. At the same time, he exalts the perfect rectitude of God. Such a knowledge of God as we have in Christ should fill our souls with faith and hope, because such a God as Christ has made known cannot act unjustly, although for a time he may appear to do so. He who knows God in Christ cannot fall into pessimism. He should be able to say with Browning -
"... This world's no blot,
I. THE HUMILIATION OF THE PROUD IS GREATLY NEEDED, This particular act of justice is singled out as though it were pre-eminent in importance. It is important on many accounts.
1. For the sake of the proud. Pride is ruinous to the heart in which it has taken up its abode, eating up the better feelings and preparing for the incoming of other sins. The only hope for a proud man is that he should be brought low, and so emptied of self.
2. For the sake of others. The proud spirit is domineering. Pride is at the root of tyranny. If men are to have their rights, the pride of the exalted must be brought down.
3. For God's sake. Pride is an insult to God, a usurpation of the Divine rights and honours. Before God man is small, weak, sinful. His only titling condition is one of humility and complete self-abasement in the sight of Heaven.
II. THE HUMILIATION OF THE PROUD IS MOST DIFFICULT TO ACCOMPLISH, Can Job do this? It is not to be supposed that he can. Pride is doubly strong.
1. In its own character. It is of the nature of pride to induce self-confidence. Even while the world is pointing the finger of scorn at the proud man, he wraps himself in the mantle of his own self-importance, and despises contempt. Here is a great difference between pride and vanity, for vanity is easily cast down, because it lives on the admiration of the world, while pride is self-contained, and may be most intense when it is least honoured.
2. In its circumstances. There are poor and unfortunate proud men. But, as a rule, success and power are the temptations to pride. Thus the proud man is entrenched behind his good fortune, and he uses all the means that prosperity has given him to defend his position.
III. THE HUMILIATION OF THE PROUD IS BROUGHT ABOUT BY GOD. This is most decidedly a Divine work. It is beyond the reach of Job or of any man. God humbles pride:
1. By his power. The proud man is helpless before his Maker. His resources are as poverty itself, and all his self-importance is but childish pretence. God lifts up the lowly, and sets down the mighty with a word.
2. In his justice. Man's pride is not attacked simply because God is jealous of it, but because it is an evil thing. An insult to God, an injury to man, it needs to be cast out in order that a right spirit of humility and obedience may take the place of it.
3. For the sake of his love. God humbles the proud man because he loves him. The abasement is not a vindictive act, but a merciful preparation for salvation. The goodness of God leads him to cast down all pretence and self-importance, so that he may raise up a new and more stable structure of solid merit in place of these empty shows. The proud but useless forest is cleared that the precious grain of wheat may be sown in its place. God cuts down man's pride to make room for Christ's grace. - W.F.A.
I. THE VAIN ATTEMPT. Men are continually trying to save themselves.
1. In danger. We feel that we need deliverance. Job desired to be saved from disease, poverty, injustice, cruelty. We all wish to escape from trouble. Some of us may be more anxious to escape from sin, our greatest enemy. There are evils, then, and the perception of them urges us to save ourselves.
2. In distrust. We ought to look to the Almighty for strength, and to the All-merciful for deliverance. But if we forget God we are tempted to rely on the arm of flesh. If we had a due appreciation of God's ability and willingness to save, we should not dream of trying to save ourselves.
3. In self-confidence. We must think little of our sin, or much of ourselves, if we imagine that we can effect our own salvation. We have not yet discovered our own weakness, nor the depth of our fall, if we suppose that there is no greater mischief with us than what we can remedy.
II. THE CERTAIN FAILURE. No man has yet saved himself. Is it likely that the latest to try the experiment will succeed? We have not yet conquered our own hearts, although we have often determined to do so. Is it probable that our next attempt will be more successful? There are good grounds for being assured that it will not.
1. The greatness and power of sin. No one who has not tried to break its yoke knows how terrific this is. We simply cannot get away from our own sin. Not only does the sin harden into a habit and so become a second nature, but it weakens the moral fibre of the soul. The prisoner languishing in the dungeon is not only held in by stone walls and iron bars, but the unhealthy condition of his confinement weakens his body so that he has not strength to break away from even smaller constraints.
2. The justice of God. This does not hold us to our sin, but it binds us to its consequences. We cannot deny that we deserve the wrath of Heaven. We cannot atone for sin. All our subsequent service is no more than is due from us, and the old debt still remains uncancelled.
III. THE GLORIOUS ALTERNATIVE. We have to learn that we cannot save ourselves, not merely to discourage useless efforts, but to lead us to the true salvation of God. What we cannot do for ourselves God can and will do if we will let him.
1. Though Jesus Christ. He was called Jesus because he would save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21). He is the "Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). Christ delivers from sin as well as from its result - death. His power to save springs from his atoning sacrifice; but he saves now as a living, present Redeemer. He is the hand of God put forth to deliver the helpless and ruined.
2. In regeneration. We need to be born again (John 3:3). So great a change cannot be brought about by ourselves; Christ alone can effect it. He has not come so much to bestow on us gifts as to change our whole life, so that we may become new creatures in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:17). - W.F.A.
I. THE DEPTH OF THE CREATIVE WISDOM OF GOD.
II. THE ALMIGHTINESS OF THE DIVINE POWER.
III. THE INFINITUDE OF THE DIVINE BENEFICENCE. "All thy works praise thee, O God."
IV. THEY TEACH THE LESSON TO MAN OF HUMBLENESS AND LOWLY TRUST. He who cares for the birds of the air and for the beasts of the field will not neglect frail man. Happy is he who has learnt to trust in the Lord and do good, knowing that he shall dwell in the land, and verily he shall be fed. - R.G.
I. GOD IS THE CREATOR OF THE ANIMAL WORLD. "God made the beast of the earth after his kind" (Genesis 1:25). We have not left the presence of God when we have come to study natural history. Here we may see indications of Divine thought. Even the coarsest wild animals are under the care of God.
1. Therefore let no one hurt them needlessly.
2. If God provides for behemoth, will he not much more provide for man?
II. MAGNITUDE AND STRENGTH HAVE A PLACE IN THE DIVINE ECONOMY. Behemoth is famous first for his size, and secondly for his physical strength. Now, these two qualities are among the lowest of good things. Still, they are good. God is glorified even by the physical greatness of his works. The chief glory of the stars is in their magnitude and in the vastness of the space which they occupy. A mere mass of flesh is the lowest excellence. Yet even this may be good if it is not abused. How much more may higher gifts?
III. EXCELLENCE IN LOWER QUALITIES IS NO GUARANTEE FOE EXCELLENCE IN HIGHER QUALITIES. Behemoth is big and strong. But he is stupid and brutal. When he opens his cavernous jaws and his dull eyes appear over them, set in a mountain of black, shapeless flesh, he is positively hideous. The gravity of his unconscious attitudes of supreme ugliness has almost a touch of humour in it. We begin to wonder how the Divine Artist who shaped the graceful gazelle and gave the perfection of motion to the swallow could have fashioned the ugly and clumsy hippopotamus. Perhaps one object was to show what a poor thing bulk of body is in comparison with brains, with thought and soul. The young man who is more proud of his biceps than of anything else belonging to him may see his ideal humiliated in behemoth. For no man can attain to the strength of a hippopotamus.
IV. THERE IS A HARMONY IN ALL GOD'S WORKS. Behemoth is suited to his home among the coarse grasses or the Nile. There his voracious appetite can find ample sustenance. God provides for all his creatures, and he suits all his creatures for the spheres in which he has called them to live. Behemoth is naturally of a low and stupid nature, and he has all that his nature requires. Man is of a higher nature. He must not be content to dream his existence away in the sleepy land where soul-life is stifled. The true "lotus-eaters" are not refined Sybarites, but hippopotami.
V. GOD, WHO WORKS IN THE GREAT, WORKS ALSO IN THE LITTLE. He made the monsters of the deep. He also made the microscopic cell. From behemoth to the amoeba all the living creatures of nature are" fearfully and wonderfully made." When we think of God behind the tiny cell, quickening its mysterious life,
"The small becomes dreadful and immense." VI. BULK AND POWER ARE NOT THE MOST TERRIBLE THINGS. Behemoth is a vegetarian. He is not cruel, like his much smaller fellow-creature, the lion. The little asp that he tramples beneath his feet is far more deadly. Big troubles may not be so hurtful as troubles that we can scarcely see till they have bitten us. - W.F.A.
VI. BULK AND POWER ARE NOT THE MOST TERRIBLE THINGS. Behemoth is a vegetarian. He is not cruel, like his much smaller fellow-creature, the lion. The little asp that he tramples beneath his feet is far more deadly. Big troubles may not be so hurtful as troubles that we can scarcely see till they have bitten us. - W.F.A.