Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
Job' by implication, upon the justice of God gives an opening for renewed admonitions and rebukes on the part of his friends. Bildad now comes forward and delivers a discourse full of noble faith, however its principles may be in this case misapplied. Rebuking the grievous complaints of Job as a wind, full of noise and emptiness (ver. 2), he proceeds -
I. TO INSIST ON THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD. This is an axiom of his faith. God cannot do unrighteousness. It, is impious to admit the thought for a single moment into the mind. He insists on the inflexibility of God's rectitude. He will not bend right and duty (ver. 3). There can be no twisting, deviation, compromise, with God. His path is ever a straight line. Bildad will therefore rather draw an unfavorable conclusion about his friend than allow the slightest shadow to be cast on the splendour of the Supreme. Job may be guilty, nay, probably is so; but there can be no probability of any failure of right in God. The principle may appear somewhat harshly and rigidly stated; and yet from the sincere, even if narrow and limited, point of view of Bildad no doubt he is in the right. Rather seek any explanation of suffering, or leave it in mystery, than bring a charge against the unbending righteousness of God.
1. Application to the past and present. Following out this reasoning, the fate of Job's sons would seem to point to the fact that they had committed a deadly sin. And so, too, Job's present sufferings lead to the inference that he is very far from pure. The terrible example of his sons should be his warning. Yet this is expressed with some kindliness and forbearance. It is put hypothetically: "if thy sons" (ver. 4). Bildad, though rigid in doctrine, is not untender at heart - a kind of character we often see exemplified in life. But we have the lesson again and again from the conduct of these friends that friendship demands intelligence as well as heart. There is a missing link in Bildad's reasoning, which destroys its power in the present case.
2. Application to the future. There is hope for the sufferer if he will but betake himself in humility and repentance to God.
(1) There must be the seeking, striving, straining, agonizing effort of the whole soul to recover its lost treasure - peace with him.
(2) There must be prayer, the sincere expression of this desire (ver. 5). In life and in thought there must be conversion from evil and towards him, the Good and the Holy, the Gracious, and the Forgiving. The result will be the recovery of the lost happiness.
(a) Innocence will be restored (ver. 6); grand hope and promise of the eternal gospel - the crimson stain may be removed from the heart and the hand, past sins and iniquities may be remembered no more. The possibility of a renovation of which men are tempted in themselves to despair.
(b) Divine protection will be felt. God will watch over him (ver. 6) or "awake for him." The Shepherd of Israel, who slumbers not, will guard him from evil by night and by day, in his going out and his coming in.
(c) Peace will be in his homestead - the peace which dwells with right and innocence. Over garden and orchard, on fields and barns, and around the hearth, will be felt brooding the nameless presence of the favour of God.
(d) There will be increase of prosperity (ver. 7). The little one will become a thousand. The seed of right, germinating and producing, will grow to waving harvests of internal joy. of external good. Such are the cheering deductions from Bildad's high principles, the suggestions of his profound faith. The righteous God will be true to the righteous man. Sin is the only root of sorrow, virtue and godliness the only secret of abiding and eternal bliss.
II. APPEAL TO ANCIENT TRADITION.
1. The wisdom of the primeval fathers the guide of to-day. Bildad founds this upon the fact that:
(1) They lived to a greater age' according to the accepted tradition, than present men. They therefore knew better the abiding laws of life than we of lesser insight, who are of yesterday and brief-lived like shadows (vers. 8, 9).
(2) Their wisdom was that of ripe conviction (ver. 10). They did not speak at second-hand nor repeat by rote what they had learnt. Theirs was the wisdom of the heart. Contempt is expressed in several places in this book for mere lip-wisdom, the froth of the mouth as opposed to the genuine utterances of the mind (Job 11:2; Job 15:3; Job 18:2).
(3) There was therefore the stamp of sincerity on their wisdom. It came from men who had seen through life's illusions and cheats, and who had touched the foundation of things.
2. Specimens of ancient wisdom. (Ver, 11, seq.) Here Bildad passes into citation of some old sayings, which condense the truths of life.
(1) The papyrus and the grass of the Nile (vers. 11, 12 ). They cannot live without their proper element and nutriment of water; they quickly wither in its absence. So must it be with man where he is devoid of Divine grace (ver. 13). A new figure is introduced in the "paths" of the forgetters of God - they are lost like a wind-swept tract in the desert (comp. Psalm 1.); and the hope of the unholy "goes under," disappears like the sun below the horizon's verge, to be seen no more.
(2) The spider's web (ver. 14). He who trusts in his own strength or resources, without God, will have his confidence rent from him as the spider's web gives way at a slight touch or at the breath of the wind. The habitation which he thinks secure is but a gossamer thing; it cannot stand (ver. 15).
(3) The creeping plant in its pride (vers. 16, 17). Before the burning glow of the sun, full of sap, it spreads over the garden, fixing itself firmly among the stones, and proudly lording it, as it were, over them. But when God withdraws the water, it perishes, unpitied by the home which it adorned. The wicked is thus denied and forsaken by his own connections, when he would rely upon them. Such is the pleasure of his way, turned into the deepest misery. Others spring from his remains, like suckers from the overthrown tree; let them take warning by his fate (vers. 18, 19). What powerful images of the nonentity of evil! It never really was - and, its semblance passing away, not a trace is left behind.
III. RECAPITULATION. (Vers. 20-22.)
1. In the way of solace. God does not despise the innocent. This is a meiosis' a saying leas than is meant. He regards, he tends, he loves them, feeds them with water in the desert, keeps them as the apple of his eye. His will is to make them happy - to bring smiles to the dejected lines of the mouth, and to fill it with the fruits of praise.
2. In the way of warning. He holds not fast the evil-doers' hand," and therefore when they stumble they are helpless. The enemies of the good man will see with shame that he is raised up from every fall (ver. 22); and once more, in final reverberation of the thunder of menace, the tent of the wicked shall vanish and be no more! LESSONS.
1. The distinction between seeming and real prosperity - that which is for a time and that which is for ever.
2. Life by Divine grace, and recovery from seeming ruin. Death without Divine grace, and overthrow of seeming prosperity. - J.
I. IS A STRICT INTEGRITY. (Ver. 3.) "Doth God pervert judgment?"
II. IS A VIGOROUS PUNISHMENT OF INIQUITY. God gives the sinful up to the fruits of their wickedness (ver. 4). But he shows both mercy and judgment.
III. IS A COMPASSIONATE FORGIVENESS OF THE PENITENT. And he exalts his just judgment -
IV. BY A GRACIOUS INTERPOSITION ON BEHALF OF THE PURE. (Vers. 6, 7.) So that no cause of complaint could remain. The Divine justice is
(2) it is displayed in the punishment of vice; and
(3) in the certain reward of virtue, even if long delayed
(4) therefore may men without hesitation commit themselves
(a) to its present treatment, and
(b) to its final decisions. - R.G.
I. HE THAT SINNETH IS PUNISHED. (Ver. 4.)
II. HE MERCIFULLY HEARETH THE PRAYER OF THE CONTRITE. (Ver. 5.)
III. HE BLESSETH THE RIGHTEOUS. (Ver. 6.)
IV. THOUGH HE CHASTISE, HE FINALLY REWARDETH THE UPRIGHT. (Ver. 7.) To this all the former ages bear testimony, as the recorded or traditional sayings of the ancients bear witness. - R.G.
I. THE POWER OF THE PEDANT. This man bases his influence on certain good qualities.
1. Experience. It is to be supposed that this is of some value. The garnered wealth of experience should be a great test of truth. The rule that has stood the strain of time appears to be confirmed in value. Ideas may be very captivating when they first flash out in their novelty, but some hidden flaw may make them utterly worthless. But the mellow maxim, ripened by years, and enriched with the juices of manifold experiences, comes to us with great claims on our confidence.
2. Humility. ]t seems to be more humble to trust to those who are older than ourselves, than to set up our own wisdom as a rival of theirs. Who are we that we should pretend to question the wisdom of the ages?
3. Reverence. On the other hand, the associations of antiquity command our reverence. We show respect to grey hairs, and we are moved to similar feelings in view of all signs of age. Coming out of a dim past, hoary with the years, ancient things acquire a certain sanctity. The grand minster, the ruined castle, the worm-eaten cabinet, the rare old book, - these things stifle our impertinent modern presumptions by the silent weight of their years. "I love everything that's old," says Goldsmith; "old friends, old times, old manners, old books, old wine."
II. THE FOLLY OF THE PEDANT. This reverence for antiquity may be abused, and it is abused by the pedant, who assumes that all modern requirements are to be settled by some musty rule of the ancients. There are many errors in such a position-
1. Lack of discrimination. Pope writes -
"With sharpen'd sight pale antiquaries pore; 2. Misinterpretation of the value of antiquity. The earlier times, as Bacon tells us, were really the childhood of our race, and we are the true ancients. It is absurd to bind the practice of the adult age by the tentative ideas of infancy. What has been tried through the centuries, and being in frequent use has stood the test of time, has thereby acquired a certain value. But mere antiquity only means an origin in more primitive and less advanced times. 3. The superstition of forms. The pedant delights in forms and rules and exact precedents. But there are no true precedents for scores of things. Indeed, no two occasions are exactly alike. Therefore no human maxims can be large enough to embrace all circumstances. Life cannot be bound by formal rules. We must learn to look facts in the face, and dare to discard ancient maxims when they are proved to be false. Antiquity is venerable, but truth is more venerable. God has given us consciences, and he has promised us the help of his Spirit. Our best guide is not an ancient rule, but the living Christ, who is ever in the midst of his people. - W.F.A.
2. Misinterpretation of the value of antiquity. The earlier times, as Bacon tells us, were really the childhood of our race, and we are the true ancients. It is absurd to bind the practice of the adult age by the tentative ideas of infancy. What has been tried through the centuries, and being in frequent use has stood the test of time, has thereby acquired a certain value. But mere antiquity only means an origin in more primitive and less advanced times.
3. The superstition of forms. The pedant delights in forms and rules and exact precedents. But there are no true precedents for scores of things. Indeed, no two occasions are exactly alike. Therefore no human maxims can be large enough to embrace all circumstances. Life cannot be bound by formal rules. We must learn to look facts in the face, and dare to discard ancient maxims when they are proved to be false. Antiquity is venerable, but truth is more venerable. God has given us consciences, and he has promised us the help of his Spirit. Our best guide is not an ancient rule, but the living Christ, who is ever in the midst of his people. - W.F.A.
I. GOD'S JUSTICE IS GOOD AND DESIRABLE. It is the mistake of narrow, one-sided views to confine the idea of God's justice to his relations with sin and punishment, and to regard it solely as that which provokes his wrath. This mistake leads people t,, have a horror of the very notion of God's justice. They would be profoundly thankful if it could be blotted out of the list of his attributes. They regard it as solely inimical to them. Their supreme desire is to escape from its clutches. It is to them a most dreadful thing. How contrary is all this to the scriptural idea of the justice of God! In the Bible God's justice is welcomed with delight in contrast to the terrible injustice of man. It is God's righteousness, God's fairness, God's equal dealing. This must be good and desirable.
II. THE JUSTICE OF GOD IS NOT ALWAYS APPARENT. Sometimes he seems to show himself in the same light as the unjust judges of imperfect human society. We cannot see the equity of his dealings. He even seems to be perverting judgment. Good men suffer, and evil men prosper. This is the common complaint of the Old Testament saints in their trouble (e.g. Psalm 73:3). But how is it possible if God is just? There is not only an apparent negligence that lets wrong be done among men unchecked. God himself appears to pervert justice in his own providential dealings, sending calamities to the innocent, and heaping favours on the guilty. This obvious fact was forced on the notice of men, and it raised most perplexing doubts at a time when temporal good was assumed to be the right reward of moral good.
III. WE HAVE GOOD REASON TO TRUST THE JUSTICE OF GOD.
1. He is almighty. He has not the inducement to act unjustly that tempts the weak. Deceit and injustice are the refuges of feebleness. Cowards are unjust. Strength can afford to be magnanimous.
2. He is perfectly wise. He will not blunder into injustice, as the most immaculate human judge may do.
3. He is absolutely good. Our revelations of God's character should assure us that his justice must be without a flaw, even though all appearances are against it. The faith that will not bear a strain is worthless. If we cannot trust God when he seems to be acting hardly and unfairly, it is little that we trust him when we can see that all is going well. The goodness of God is our security; we must judge of events by what we know of God in Christ, not of God by what we appear to discover in events.
4. Justice is not always what we should expect. The principle must be simple and intelligible. We must believe that justice in God must be what we know as justice - only infinitely exalted. But the application of this justice may be beyond our conceptions. It may be just for God to do what looks to us now as unfair. Here we must trust and wait for the end. - W.F.A.
I. THE CHRISTIAN MUST HAVE A SMALL BEGINNING.
1. In penitence. He must first humble himself in the very dust. No boasting can be admitted into the kingdom of heaven.
2. In childlikeness. We have to turn and become as little children if we are to enter God's kingdom. This implies humility, simplicity of heart, and the utter self abandonment of faith.
3. In spiritual experience. We can but begin the Christian life as babes in Christ. Our knowledge is small, our strength slight, our spiritual attainment most imperfect.
4. In enjoyment of blessings. We may begin in temporal adversity. There is no promise that the Christian shall be a rich and prospereus man in the world. But whatever the external condition may be, the enjoyment of the real fruits of Divine grace will be but small until the soul has grown into the capacity to receive more of the blessings they bring.
II. THE CHRISTIAN WILL HAVE A GREAT INCREASE.
1. On earth. The Christian life should be one of progress, and it will be if it is healthy. Growth is a law of life, and it is a law that applies to the Divine life in the soul. The healthy Christian will grow in grace; his knowledge will expand; his spirituality will deepen; his capacity for service will widen; his enjoyment of the blessedness of the vision of God will become richer and more intense.
2. In heaven. The best comes last. The great increase is in the "latter end; This is different from the experience of natural life, which reaches a climax in middle life, and then turns towards the decrepitude of senile decay. But there is no such decline for the spiritual life so long as it is healthy. That life knows no old age; it partakes of the unfading glory of the Eternal. For the aged Christian there shall be "light at eventide;" and when his sun has set on earth, it shall rise in heaven in the larger glory of God's eternal day.
III. GOD LEADS THE RACE FROM A SMALL BEGINNING TO A INCREASE. This is the case naturally in the population which has sprung from one pair of parents, until it has filled the earth with more than a thousand million souls, and which continues to increase at an unprecedented rate. The same is true of civilization and human progress. The law of human life on earth is one of advance and enlargement. Thus we are encouraged to look forward to the golden age. God is educating the race by the process of the centuries, and preparing it for great increase at the latter end. There was a grand advance beyond these Old Testament times when Christ brought in his gospel; the triumphs of the gospel speak of an enlarged increase. But the best is in store in the full coming of the kingdom of Christ. Therefore let us press forward in hope and an eager desire to do our part towards hastening the happy advent of the promised future. - W.F.A.
I. IT IS TEMPORARY. Passing away as the "rush without mire, or the reed without water." Quickly it grows up, but as quickly withers. The promise of it is vain. "While it is yet in its greenness, and not cut down, it withereth before any other herb."
II. IT IS UNSUBSTANTIAL AND UNTRUSTWORTHY. AS "the spider's web." It is weak, unworthy of any confidence. As the gossamer thread is broken by a touch or even a breath of wind, so his expectation is cut off by the most trivial incident. It has no firmness, no endurance, no permanence.
III. IT IS IMMATURE AND NEVER COMES TO PERFECTION. "It is green before the sun" With rapid haste it strides forth, but only with equal haste to fail. In its own judgment it is firm and enduring as a stone structure. With proud self-confidence so he prides himself. But it is that all may fall to ruin. The destroyer is at hand, even he who casts away.
IV. IT IS FORGOTTEN AND DISAPPOINTING, AND PASSES OUT OF MIND. Its very place denies it. "I have not seen thee." No greater joy or reward can the hypocrite's hope afford him. Disappointment is his lot. He sows the seeds of vanity; vanity he reaps. He leans upon a thread which a breath may break. Deceitful himself, his hopes are as the heart which gave them birth. They return to their own. He created them; they are as their maker. From this rude disappointment men may guard
(1) by sincerity of spirit,
(2) by basing their hopes upon a true foundation, for which nothing prepares them but
(3) a thorough honesty and cherished truthfulness. - R.G.
I. HISTORY TEACHES BY EXAMPLE. Here we can see truth in the concrete. The ideas which we discuss in the abstract are embodied and at work in the living facts of history. We can study republicanism in ancient Greece, and monarchy in the Roman empire; the consequences of heathenism in the pagan world, and the fruits of Christianity in the story of the gospel and its triumphs; the power of the gospel in the romance of missions, and the weakness of man in the failure and ruin of ancient Churches. Here we see not lifeless arguments, but living men. Therefore much of the Bible is history; God's Word comes to us through man's life. We should pay more attention to men and facts.
II. HISTORY REVEALS THE ORIGIN OF INSTITUTIONS AND MOVEMENTS. Most of those which we have to do with took their rise in a more or less remote past. If we can trace them back to their source, we can better judge of their whole characters. Much attention is given to the childhood and youth of a great man by his biographer, for therein lies the secret of his after-life. It is well to trace back the Christian story, and see how God has been shaping his Church through the ages. Our religion is emphatically historical. It springs from facts, things done in the past. In this respect it is unique among the religions of the world. All the doctrines of Christianity are lessons of history; they all take their rise in the story of Christ and his cross. Yet we are not bound by pedantic rules and frivolous precedents. We find the origin of our faith in certain facts. The interpretation of those facts must grow with our advancing knowledge, and the application of their lessons must vary with changing circumstances.
III. HISTORY HELPS TO MATURITY OF JUDGMENT. If we are weak and lack independence of mind, it may weigh us down with the incubus of its precedents. This is how it affected Bildad with his veneration for the fathers, and this is how it affects those good Christian people who make the Church Fathers absolute authorities, when they should dare to trust a careful and devout interpretation of Scripture and the ultimate judgments of the Christian consciousness. Yet, on the other hand, there is a good use of the Fathers. The very variety of explanations of Christian doctrines in the past should teach us caution and a large wisdom in treating difficult subjects. The student of history will often know that some pretentious notion, flashed out on the world as a magnificent discovery, is but a thrice-slain error of ancient controversies. Old truth will endure the test of time. But standing on the experience of the ages, we should be able to reach forth to higher truth in the future, the more readily because we thus use the past. - W.F.A.
I. THE PLANTS SPRING FROM WATER. Both of these plants grow in marshes or pools, and by the banks of rivers and canals. They both need an abundance of water. man can only live when nourished by the goodness of God. The Christian can only grow to maturity when planted by the unfailing streams of the river of life.
II. THE PLANTS FLOURISH LUXURIANTLY. This is one of the characteristics of succulent plants in moist soil. They grow rapidly and flourish greatly. So, as the goodness of God is no mere sprinkling of refreshment, but a great river with abundance of water, they who live upon it will not be in a meagre and stunted state, but will make great progress and will grow in grace.
III. THE FLOURISHING CONDITION OF THE PLANTS IS PROOF OF THE PRESENCE OF NOURISHING STREAMS. They may be so abundant and so rank in their growth as to hide the water from which they spring; but their very splendour of health and development is a certain sign that they are surrounded by plenteous streams. We know that their roots must be in the water because their stems and upper growth are so green and vigorous. So the existence of prosperity is a sign of Divine goodness. We cannot go so far as Bildad, and take it as a proof of God's approval, for God is gracious to bad men; but it is a proof of God's kindness. The spiritual flourishing of Christian people is a certain sign that they are drinking of the living waters. They may be reserved, and may not reveal to us the springs from which they draw, hiding the roots of their spiritual life. Still by their fruits shall we know them, and learn that they must be in vital relations with the Divine source of all spiritual experience.
IV. THE PLANTS FLOURISH FOR USEFUL END. The reed referred to by Bildad is an edible plant; and the papyrus is the material from which paper was anciently made. The prosperity which God gives to man is a talent to be used in the service of life. Spiritual growth should lead to spiritual productiveness. We receive grace from God in order that we may minister to the work of God.
V. WHEN THE WATER DRIES UP THE PLANTS WITHER. These plants are not like the thorns of the desert, which can endure a terrible drought without suffering seriously. They are distinctly denizens of watery places, and without water they must perish. Man's prosperity must cease when God ceases to bless him. He may ignore the Divine source of his good things, but he must fail if that source is stopped. The Christian more especially will suffer in his better life if he is deprived of the streams of grace. He is like the tree planted by the rivers of water. He in particular needs streams of grace if he is to flourish. He cannot thrive on his own goodly proportions. The most advanced Christian must go back and even utterly perish if he loses the constant supply of grace. We must be in Christ to live the Christian life. - W.F.A.
I. IT IS QUICKLY WOVEN. It is one of the most rapidly made fabrics in nature. It puts Jonah's gourd to the shame. Some men are very hasty in forming foolish hopes. With them the wish is father to the thought. They jump to conclusions that are favourable to themselves. But the sanguine temperament is no guarantee for permanent security. Because we believe readily, we do not believe the more safely.
II. IT IS DELICATE AND BEAUTIFUL TO LOOK AT. We cannot but admire the spider's web on a bright September morning, when it. is spangled with dewdrops. Its very delicacy of structure adds to the beauty of it. There is nothing coarse about it. Some people have a religion that is refined and delicate and beautiful. They despise the vulgar ideas of other people. Their spider's web is much more suitable to their superfine culture than the coarse hemp ropes of the religion of less cultivated people.
III. IT IS USEFUL FOR ITS NATURAL END. We have no right to complain that the spider's web does not sustain our weight when we lean upon it. It was not spun for such a purpose. But yet it serves its own proper end. It is an excellent ladder for its maker, and a perfect trap for his victims. Some of those grounds of hope to which foolish people trust are not utterly false and useless. For example, aestheticism taken for a religion is as a spider's web. Yet it is useful as a form of culture. Intellectualism is like another spider's web. While the superfine thinker is spinning his fanciful threads of thought, he is doing little for the business of life. Yet what he does may be good and true in itself, if only he would keep it in its right place.
IV. IT IS EXCESSIVELY FRAGILE. It is just the type of fragility. Therefore all its good points are useless when a man thinks of trusting his weight to it. You but mock the drowning man if you toss him the spider's web. He must grasp a substantial rope if he is to be saved. Now, Bildad rightly compares the hope of the impious to this web. It is fragile in the extreme.
1. It has no substance The man trusts
(1) to his own wisdom, which is folly in the eyes of God;
(2) to his goodness, which under God's searching glance is full of sin;
(3) to his prosperity, which cannot endure when the favour of God is withdrawn;
(4) to God's goodness, which indeed is a rock of refuge, only it is out of the reach of the impious, who only clutch at a shadow of it in their own fancy.
2. It is heavily tried. Here is a question of life and death. A man has to seek a security for his own soul and his eternal interests. The spider's web may stand slight tests, but not the strain those awful requirements put upon it. AEsthetics, intellectualism, and all other human ideas fail here. We want a strong means of deliverance, the gospel shows us that this is to be had in Christ for those who repent and trust him. - W.F.A.
I. TENDER. God does not "cast away" nor despise him, but gently leads him by the hand, as he will not the evil-doers, helping him as none other can help. To that care we have learnt that we may commit ourselves, forasmuch as he careth for us. The Divine, pitiful, compassionate aid is given to meet the need of the frail man. Not therefore, rudely, or with rough and harsh, but with tender, treatment does help the perfect man. The Divine care for the upright is -
II. CONTINUOUS. He is faithful to them who put their trust in him- He disappoints the hope of the ungodly, but not that of the righteous. As the hypocrite trusted to a spider's web which had no strength, and to the unwatered flag which withered, so the perfect man finds in God a Rock of refuge, steadfast and unchangeable. He ever abides. The immutability of the Divine Name is one of the truest sources of consolation to the weary, the troubled, and sad at heart.
III. The Divine care for the perfect man is further A TRUE CAUSE OF JOY AND GLADNESS. He fills the "mouth with laughing" and the "lips with rejoicing." God gives songs in the dark night of affliction, and brings the true consolation to the sufferer, causing him to shout aloud for very joy. He is a Hiding-place and a Refuge. He is a Spring of water and a Shadow from the heat of the day. He inspires strength to the soul, as with bread he nourishes the body; and comfort to the spirit, as with wine he revives the drooping.
IV. The Divine care for the perfect man, in its retributive judgments, CASTS SHAME UPON HIS ENEMIES. Vindicating the character of his faithful one against the aspersion of his wicked foes, he causes "the dwelling-place" of that wicked one to "come to nought," and the wicked one himself to "be clothed with shame." Thus the Divine care is tender towards his befriended one the poor, frail, but faithful son of man - crowning him with honour and glory, making his crown to flourish, while clothing his enemies with shame and confusion of face. - R.G.