Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible
There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil.
PREFACE TO VOLUME THREE
These five books of scripture which are contained in this third volume and which I have here endeavoured, according to the measure of the gift given to me, to explain and improve, for the use of those who desire to read them, not only with understanding, but to their edification—though they have the same divine origin, design, and authority, as those that went before, yet, upon some accounts, are of a very different nature from them, and from the rest of the sacred writings, such variety of methods has Infinite Wisdom seen fit to take in conveying the light of divine revelation to the children of men, that this heavenly food might have (as the Jews say of the manna) something in it agreeable to every palate and suited to every constitution. If every eye be not thus opened, every mouth will be stopped, and such as perish in their ignorance will be left without excuse. We have piped unto you, and you have not danced, we have mourned unto you, and you have not lamented, Mt. 11:17.
I. The books of scripture have hitherto been, for the most part, very plain and easy, narratives of matter of fact, which he that runs may read and understand, and which are milk for babes, such as they can receive and digest, and both entertain and nourish themselves with. The waters of the sanctuary have hitherto been but to the ankles or to the knees, such as a lamb might wade in, to drink of and wash in; but here we are advanced to a higher form in God’s school, and have books put into our hands wherein are many things dark and hard to be understood, which we do not apprehend the meaning of so suddenly and so certainly as we could wish, the study of which requires a more close application of mind, a greater intenseness of thought, and the accomplishing of a diligent search, which yet the treasure hid in them, when it is found, will abundantly recompense. The waters of the sanctuary are here to the loins, and still as we go forward we shall find the waters still risen in the prophetical books, waters to swim in (Eze. 47:3-5), not fordable, nor otherwise to be passed over—depths in which an elephant will not find footing, strong meat for strong men. The same method is observable in the New Testament, where we find the plain history of Christ and his gospel placed first in the Evangelists and the Acts of the Apostles; then the mystery of both in the Epistles, which are more difficult to be understood; and, lastly, the prophesies of things to come in the apocalyptic visions. This method, so exactly observed in both the Testaments, directs us in what order to proceed both in studying the things of God ourselves and in teaching them to others; we must go in the order that the scripture does; and where can we expect to find a better method of divinity and a better method of preaching?
1. We must begin with those things that are most plain and easy, as, blessed be God, those things are which are most necessary to salvation and of the greatest use. We must lay our foundation firm, in a sound experimental knowledge of the principles of religion, and then the super-structure will be well reared and will stand firmly. It is not safe to launch out into the deep at first, nor to venture into points difficult and controverted until we have first thoroughly digested the elements of the oracles of God and turned them in succum et sanguinem—into juice and blood. Those that begin their Bible at the wrong end commonly use their knowledge of it in the wrong way. And, in training up others, we must be sure to ground them well at first in those truths of God which are plain, and in some measure level to their capacity, which we find they comprehend, and relish, and know how to make use of, and not amuse those that are weak with things above them, things of doubtful disputation, which they cannot apprehend any certainty of nor advantage by. Our Lord Jesus spoke the word to the people as they were able to hear it (Mk. 4:33) and had many things to say to his disciples which he did not say because as yet they could not bear them, Jn. 16:12, 13. And those whom St. Paul could not speak to as unto spiritual—though he blamed them for their backwardness, yet he accommodated himself to their weakness, and spoke to them as unto babes in Christ, 1 Co. 3:1, 2.
2. Yet we must not rest in these things. We must not be always children that have need of milk, but nourished up with that, and gaining strength, we must go on to perfection (Heb. 6:1), that having, by reason of use, our spiritual senses exercised (Heb. 5:14), we may come to full age, and put away childish things, and, forgetting the things which are behind, that is, so well remembering them (Phil. 3:13) that we need not be still poring over them as those that are ever learning the same lesson, we may reach forth to the things which are before. Though we must never think to learn above our Bible, as long as we are here in this world, yet we must still be getting forward in it. You have dwelt long enough in this mountain; now turn and take your journey onward in the wilderness towards Canaan. Our motto must be Plus ultra—Onward. And then shall we know if thus, by regular steps (Hos. 6:3), we follow on to know the Lord and what the mind of the Lord is.
II. The books of scripture have hitherto been mostly historical, but now the matter is of another nature; it is doctrinal and devotional, preaching and praying; and in this way of writing, as well as in the former, a great deal of excellent knowledge is conveyed, which serves very valuable purposes. It will be of good use to know not only what others did that went before us, and how they fared, but what their notions and sentiments were, what their thoughts and affections were, that we may, with the help of them, form our minds aright. Plutarch’s Morals are reputed as a useful treasure in the commonwealth of learning as Plutarch’s Lives, and the wise disquisitions and discourses of the philosophers as the records of the historians; nor is this divine philosophy (if I may so call it), which we have in these books, less needful, nor less serviceable, to the church, than the sacred history was. Blessed be God for both.
III. The Jews make these books to be given by a divine inspiration somewhat different from that both of Moses and the prophets. They divided the books of the Old Testament into the Law, the Prophets and the ktwbym—Writings, which Epiphanius emphatically translates grapheia—things written, and these books are more commonly called among the Greeks Hagiographa—Holy writings: the Jews attribute them to that distinct kind of inspiration which they call rwh hqds—The Holy Spirit. Moses they supposed to write by the Spirit in a way above all the other prophets, for with him God spoke mouth to mouth, even apparently (Num. 12:8) knew him, that is, conversed with him face to face, Deu. 34:10. He was made partaker of divine revelation (as Maimonides distinguishes, De Fund. Legis, ch. 7) per vigiliam—while awake, (See Mr. Smith’s Discourses on Prophecy, ch. 11.) whereas God manifested himself to all the other prophets in a dream or vision: and he adds that Moses understood the words of prophecy without any perturbation or astonishment of mind, whereas the other prophets commonly fainted and were troubled. But the writers of the Hagiographa they suppose to be inspired in a degree somewhat below that of the other prophets, and to receive divine revelation, not as they did by dreams, and visions, and voices, but (as Maimonides describes it, More Nevochim—part 2 c. 45) they perceived some power to rise within them, and rest upon them, which urged and enabled them to write or speak far above their own natural ability, in psalms or hymns, or in history or in rules of good living, still enjoying the ordinary vigour and use of their senses. Let David himself describe it. The Spirit of the Lord spoke by me, and his word was in my tongue; the God of Israel said, the Rock of Israel spoke to me, 2 Sa. 23:2, 3. This gives such a magnificent account of the inspiration by which David wrote that I see not why it should be made inferior to that of the other prophets, for David is expressly called a prophet, Acts 2:29, 30. But, since our hand is in with the Jewish masters, let us see what books they account Hagiographa. These five that are now before us come, without dispute, into this rank of sacred writers, and the book of the Lamentations is not unfitly added to them. Indeed the Jews, when they would speak critically, reckon all those songs which we meet with in the Old Testament among the Hagiographa; for though they were penned by prophets, and under the direction of the Holy Ghost, yet, because they were not the proper result of a visum propheticum—prophetic vision, they were not strictly prophecy. As to the historical books, they distinguish (but I think it is a distinction without a difference); some of them they assign to the prophets, calling them the prophetae priores—the former prophets, namely, Joshua, Judges, and the two books of the Kings; but others they rank among the Hagiographa, as the book of Ruth (which yet is but an appendix to the book of Judges), the two books of Chronicles, with Ezra, Nehemiah, and the book of Esther, which last the rabbin have a great value for, and think it is to be had in equal esteem with the law of Moses itself, that it shall last as long as that lasts, and shall survive the writings of the Prophets. And, lastly, they reckon the book of Daniel among the Hagiographa, (Hil. Megil. c. 2, 11) for which no reason can be given, since he was not inferior to any of the prophets in the gift of prophecy; and therefore the learned Mr. Smith thinks that their placing him among the Hagiographical writers was fortuitous by mistake (Vid. Hottinger. Thesaur. lib. 2, cap. 1, 3). Mr. Smith, in his Discourse before quoted, though he supposes this kind of divine inspiration to be more "pacate and serene than that which was strictly called prophecy, not acting so much upon the imagination, but seating itself in the higher and purer faculties of the soul, yet shows that it manifested itself to be of a divine nature, not only as it always elevated pious souls into strains of devotion, or moved them strangely to dictate matters of true piety and goodness, but as it came in abruptly upon the minds of those holy men, and transported them from the temper of mind they were in before, so that they perceived themselves captivated by the power of some higher light than that which their own understanding commonly poured out upon them; and this, says he, was a kind of vital form to that light of divine and sanctified reason which they were perpetually possessed of and that constant frame of holiness and goodness which dwelt in their hallowed minds." We have reason to glorify the God of Israel who gave such power unto men and has here transmitted to us the blessed products of that power.
IV. The style and composition of these books are different from those that go before and those that follow. Our Saviour divides the books of the Old Testament into the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms (Lu. 24:44), and thereby teaches us to distinguish those books that are poetical, or metrical, from the Law and the Prophets; and such are all these that are now before us, except Ecclesiastes, which yet, having something restrained in its style, may well enough be reckoned among them. They are books in verse, according to the ancient rules of versifying, though not according to the Greek and Latin prosodies. Some of the ancients call these five books the second Pentateuch of the Old Testament (Damascen. Orthod. Fid. 1.4, cap. 18.), five sacred volumes which are as the satellites to the five books of the law of Moses. Gregory Nazianzen (Vid. Suicer. Thesaur. in sticheµra—carm. 33, p. 98) calls these hai sticheµrai pente—the five metrical books; first Job (so he reckons them up), then David, then the three of Solomon-Ecclesiastes, the Song, and Proverbs. Amphilochius, bishop at Iconium, in his iambic poem to Seleucus, reckons them up particularly, and calls them sticheµras pente Biblos—the five verse-books. Epiphanius (lib. de ponder. et mensur. p. 533) pente sticheµreis—the five verse-books. And Cyril. Hierosol. Collect. 4, p. 30 (mihi—in my copy), calls these five books ta sticheµra—books in verse. Polychronius, in his prologue to Job, says that as those that are without call their tragedies and comedies poieµtika—poetics, so, in sacred writ, those books which are composed in Hebrew metre (of which he reckons Job the first) we call sticheµra biblia—books in verse, written kata stichon—according to order. What is written in metre, or rhythm, is so called from metros—a measure, and arithmos—a number, because regulated by certain measures, or numbers of syllables, which please the ear with their smoothness and cadency, and so insinuate the matter the more movingly and powerfully into the fancy. Sir William Temple, (Miscell, part 2.) in his essay upon poetry, thinks it is generally agreed to have been the first sort of writing that was used in the world, nay, that, in several nations, poetical compositions preceded the very invention or usage of letters. The Spaniards (he says) found in America many strains of poetry, and such as seemed to flow from a true poetic vein, before any letters were known in those regions. The same (says he) is probable of the Scythians and Grecians: the oracles of Apollo were delivered in verse. Homer and Hesiod wrote their poems (the very Alcoran of the pagan daemonology) many ages before the appearing of any of the Greek philosophers or historians; and long before them (if we may give credit to the antiquities of Greece), even before the days of David, Orpheus and Linus were celebrated poets and musicians in Greece; and at the same time Carmenta, the mother of Evander, who was the first that introduced letters among the natives of Greece, was so called a carmine—from a song, because she expressed herself in verse. And in such veneration was this way of writing among the ancients that their poets were called vates—prophets, and their muses were deified. But, which is more certain and considerable, the most ancient composition that we meet with in scripture was the song of Moses at the Red Sea (Ex. 15), which we find before the very first mention of writing, for that occurs not until Ex. 17:14, when God bade Moses write a memorial of the war with Amalek. The first, and indeed the true and general end of writing, is a help of memory; and poetry does in some measure answer that end, and even in the want of writing, much more with writing, helps to preserve the remembrance of ancient things. The book of wars of the Lord (Num. 21:14), and the book of Jasher (Jos. 10:13; 2 Sa. 1:18), seem to have been both written in poetic measures. Many sacred songs we meet with in the Old Testament, scattered both in the historical and prophetical books, penned on particular occasions, which, in the opinion of very competent judges, "have in them as true and noble strains of poetry and picture as are met with in any other language whatsoever, in spite of all disadvantages from translations into such different tongues and common prose, (Sir W. Temple, p. 329.) nay, are nobler examples of the true sublime style of poetry than any that can be found in the Pagan writers; the images are so strong, the thoughts so great, the expressions so divine, and the figures so admirably bold and moving, that the wonderful manner of these writers is quite inimitable." (Sir R. Blackmore’s preface to Job.) It is fit that what is employed in the service of the sanctuary should be the best in its kind.
The books here put together are poetical. Job is an heroic poem, the book of Psalms a collection of divine odes or lyrics, Solomon’s Song a pastoral and an epithalamium; they are poetical, and yet sacred and serious, grave and full of majesty. They have a poetic force and flame, with out poetic fury and fiction, and strangely command and move the affections, without corrupting the imagination or putting a cheat upon it; and, while they gratify the ear, they edify the mind and profit the more by pleasing. It is therefore much to be lamented that so powerful an art, which was at first consecrated to the honour of God, and has been so often employed in his service, should be debauched, as it has been, and is at this day, into the service of his enemies—that his corn, and wine, and oil should be prepared for Baal.
V. As the manner of the composition of these books is excellent, and very proper to engage the attention, move the affections, and fix them in the memory, so the matter is highly useful, and such as will be every way serviceable to us. They have in them the very sum and substance of religion, and what they contain is more fitted to our hand, and made ready for use, than any part of the Old Testament, upon which account, if we may be allowed to compare one star with another in the firmament of the scripture, these will be reckoned stars of the first magnitude. All scripture is profitable (and this part of it in a special manner) for instruction in doctrine, in devotion, and in the right ordering of the conversation. The book of Job directs us what we are to believe concerning God, the book of Psalms how we are to worship him, pay our homage to him, and maintain our communion with him, and then the book of the Proverbs shows very particularly how we are to govern ourselves en paseµ anastropheµ—in every turn of human life; thus shall the man of God, by a due attention to these lights, be perfect, thoroughly furnished for every good work. And these are placed according to their natural order, as well as according to the order of time; for very fitly are we first led into the knowledge of God, our judgments rightly formed concerning him, and our mistakes rectified, and then instructed how to worship him and to choose the things that please him. We have here much of natural religion, its principles, its precepts—much of God, his infinite perfections, his relations to man, and his government both of the world and of the church; here is much of Christ, who is the spring, and soul, and centre, of revealed religion, and whom both Job and David were eminent types of, and had clear and happy prospects of. We have here that which will be of use to enlighten our understandings, and to acquaint us more and more with the things of God, with the deep things of God—speculations to entertain the most contemplative, and discoveries to satisfy the most inquisitive and increase the knowledge of those that are most knowing. Here is that also which, with a divine light, will bring into the soul the heat and influence of a divine fire, will kindle and inflame pious and devout affections, on which wings we may soar upwards until we enter into the holiest. We may here be in the mount with God, to behold his beauty; and when we come down from that mount, if we retain (as we ought) the impressions of our devotion upon our spirits and make conscience of doing that good which the Lord our God here requires of us, our faces shall shine before all with whom we converse, who shall take occasion thence to glorify our Father who is in heaven, Mt. 5:16. Thus great, thus noble, thus truly excellent, is the subject, and thus capable of being improved, which gives me the more reason to be ashamed of the meanness of my performance, that the comment breathes so little of the life and spirit of the text. We often wonder at those that are not at all affected with the great things of God, and have no taste nor relish of them, because they know little of them; but perhaps we have more reason to wonder at ourselves, that conversing so frequently, so intimately, with them, we are not more affected with them, so as even to be wholly taken up with them, and in a continual transport of delight in the contemplation of them. We hope to be so shortly; in the mean time, though like the three disciples that were the witnesses of Christ’s transfiguration upon the mount we are but dull and sleepy, yet we can say, Master, it is good to be here; here let us make tabernacles, Lu. 9:32, 33.
I have nothing here to boast of—nothing at all, but a great deal to be humbled for, that I have not come up to what I have aimed at in respect of fulness and exactness. In the review of the work, I find many defects, and those who are critical, perhaps, will meet with some mistakes in it; but I have done it with what care I could, and desire to be thankful to God who by his grace has carried me on in his work thus far: let that grace have all the glory (Phil. 2:13), which works in us both to will and to do whatever we will or do that is good or serves any good purpose. What is from God will, I trust, be to him, will be graciously accepted by him, according to what a man has, and not according to what he had not, and will be of some use to his church; and what is from myself (that is, all the defects and errors) will, I trust, be favourably passed by and pardoned. That prayer of St. Austin is mine, Domine Deus, quaecunque dixi in his libris de tuo, agnoscant et tui; et quae de meo, et tu ignosce et tui—Lord God, whatever I have maintained in these books correspondent with what is contained in thine grant that thy people may approve as well as thyself; whatever is but the doctrine of my book forgive thou, and grant that thy people may forgive it also. I must beg likewise to own, to the honour of our great Master, that I have found the work to be its own wages, and that the more we converse with the word of God the more it is to us as the honey and the honeycomb, Ps. 19:10. In gathering some gleaning of this harvest for others we may feast ourselves; and, when we are enabled by the grace of God to do so, we are best qualified to feed others. I was much pleased with a passage I lately met with of Erasmus, that great scholar and celebrated wit, in an epistle dedicatory before his book De Ratione Concionandi, where, as one weary of the world and the hurry of it, he expresses an earnest desire to spend the rest of his days in secret communion with Jesus Christ, encouraged by his gracious invitation to those who labour and are heavy laden to come unto him for rest (Mt. 11:28), and this alone is that which he thinks will yield him true satisfaction. I think his words worth transcribing, and such as deserve to be inserted among the testimonies of great men to serious godliness. Neque quisquam facilè credat quàm miserè animus jamdudum affectet ab his laboribus in tranquillam otium secedere, quodque superest vitae (superest autem vix brevis palmus sive pugillus), solum cum eo solo colloqui, qui clamavit olim (nec hodiè mutat vocem suam), "Venite ad me, omnes qui laboratis et onerati estis, ego reficiam vos;" quandoquidem in tam turbulento, ne dicam furente, saeculo, in tot molestiis quas vel ipsa tempora publicè invehunt, vel privatim adfert oetas ac valetudo, nihil reperio in quo mens mea libentius conquiescat quàm in hoc arcano colloquio—No one will easily believe how anxiously, for a long time past, I have wished to retire from these labours into a scene of tranquility, and, during the remainder of life (dwindled, it is true, to the shortest span), to converse only with him who once cried (nor does he now retract), "Come unto me, all you that labour and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you," for in this turbulent, not to say furious, age, the many public sources of disquietude, connected with the infirmities of advancing age, leave no solace to my mind to be compared with this secret communion. In the pleasing contemplation of the divine beauty and benignity we hope to spend a blessed eternity, and therefore in this work it is good t o spend as much as may be of our time.
One volume more, containing the prophetical books, will finish the Old Testament, if the Lord continue my life, and leisure, and ability of mind and body for this work. It is begun, and I find it will be larger than any of the other volumes, and longer in the doing; but, as God by his grace shall furnish me for it and assist me in it (without which grace I am nothing, less than nothing, worse than nothing), it shall be carried on with all convenient speed; and sat citò, si sat benè—if with sufficient ability, it will be with sufficient speed. I desire the prayers of my friends that God would minister seed to the sower and bread to the eaters (Isa. 55:10), that he would multiply the seed sown and increase the fruits of our righteousness (2 Co. 9:10), that so he who sows and those who reap may rejoice together (Jn. 4:36); and the great Lord of the harvest shall have the glory of all.
Chester, May 13, 1710
An Exposition, With Practical Observations, of
The Book of Job
This book of Job stands by itself, is not connected with any other, and is therefore to be considered alone. Many copies of the Hebrew Bible place it after the book of Psalms, and some after the Proverbs, which perhaps has given occasion to some learned men to imagine it to have been written by Isaiah or some of the later prophets. But, as the subject appears to have been much more ancient, so we have no reason to think but that the composition of the book was, and that therefore it is most fitly placed first in this collection of divine morals: also, being doctrinal, it is proper to precede and introduce the book of Psalms, which is devotional, and the book of Proverbs, which is practical; for how shall we worship or obey a God whom we know not? As to this book,
I. We are sure that it is given by inspiration of God, though we are not certain who was the penman of it. The Jews, though no friends to Job, because he was a stranger to the commonwealth of Israel, yet, as faithful conservators of the oracles of God committed to them, always retained this book in their sacred canon. The history is referred to by one apostle (James 5:11) and one passage (ch. 5:13) is quoted by another apostle, with the usual form of quoting scripture, It is written, 1 Co. 3:19. It is the opinion of many of the ancients that this history was written by Moses himself in Midian, and delivered to his suffering brethren in Egypt, for their support and comfort under their burdens, and the encouragement of their hope that God would in due time deliver and enrich them, as he did this patient sufferer. Some conjecture that it was written originally in Arabic, and afterwards translated into Hebrew, for the use of the Jewish church, by Solomon (so Monsieur Jurieu) or some other inspired writer. It seems most probable to me that Elihu was the penman of it, at least of the discourses, because (ch. 32:15, 16) he mingles the words of a historian with those of a disputant: but Moses perhaps wrote the first two chapters and the last, to give light to the discourses; for in them God is frequently called Jehovah, but not once in all the discourses, except ch. 12:9. That name was but little known to the patriarchs before Moses, Ex. 6:3. If Job wrote it himself, some of the Jewish writers themselves own him a prophet among the Gentiles; if Elihu, we find he had a spirit of prophecy which filled him with matter and constrained him, ch. 32:18.
II. We are sure that it is, for the substance of it, a true history, and not a romance, though the dialogues are poetical. No doubt there was such a man as Job; the prophet Ezekiel names him with Noah and Daniel, Eze. 14:14. The narrative we have here of his prosperity and piety, his strange afflictions and exemplary patience, the substance of his conferences with his friends, and God’s discourse with him out of the whirlwind, with his return at length to a very prosperous condition, no doubt is exactly true, though the inspired penman is allowed the usual liberty of putting the matter of which Job and his friends discoursed into his own words.
III. We are sure that it is very ancient, though we cannot fix the precise time either when Job lived or when the book was written. So many, so evident, are its hoary hairs, the marks of its antiquity, that we have reason to think it of equal date with the book of Genesis itself, and that holy Job was contemporary with Isaac and Jacob; though not coheir with them of the promise of the earthly Canaan, yet a joint-expectant with them of the better country, that is, the heavenly. Probably he was of the posterity of Nahor, Abraham’s brother, whose first-born was Uz (Gen. 22:21), and in whose family religion was for some ages kept up, as appears, Gen. 31:53, where God is called, not only the God of Abraham, but the God of Nahor. He lived before the age of man was shortened to seventy or eighty, as it was in Moses’s time, before sacrifices were confined to one altar, before the general apostasy of the nations from the knowledge and worship of the true God, and while yet there was no other idolatry known than the worship of the sun and moon, and that punished by the Judges, ch. 31:26–28. He lived while God was known by the name of God Almighty more than by the name of Jehovah; for he is called Shaddai—the Almighty, above thirty times in this book. He lived while divine knowledge was conveyed, not by writing, but by tradition; for to that appeals are here made, ch. 8:8; 21:29; 15:18; 5:1. And we have therefore reason to think that he lived before Moses, because here is no mention at all of the deliverance of Israel out of Egypt, or the giving of the law. There is indeed one passage which might be made to allude to the drowning of Pharaoh (ch. 26:12): He divideth the sea with his power, and by his understanding he smiteth through Rahab, which name Egypt is frequently called by in scripture, as Ps. 87:4; 89:10; Isa. 51:9. But that may as well refer to the proud waves of the sea. We conclude therefore that we are here got back to the patriarchal age, and, besides its authority, we receive this book with veneration for its antiquity.
IV. We are sure that it is of great use to the church, and to every good Christian, though there are many passages in it dark and hard to be understood. We cannot perhaps be confident of the true meaning of every Arabic word and phrase we meet with in it. It is a book that finds a great deal of work for the critics; but enough is plain to make the whole profitable, and it was all written for our learning.
1. This noble poem presents to us, in very clear and lively characters, these five things among others:—(1.) A monument of primitive theology. The first and great principles of the light of nature, on which natural religion is founded, are here, in a warm, and long, and learned dispute, not only taken for granted on all sides and not the least doubt made of them, but by common consent plainly laid down as eternal truths, illustrated and urged as affecting commanding truths. Were ever the being of God, his glorious attributes and perfections, his unsearchable wisdom, his irresistible power, his inconceivable glory, his inflexible justice, and his incontestable sovereignty, discoursed of with more clearness, fulness, reverence, and divine eloquence, than in this book? The creation of the world, and the government of it, are here admirably described, not as matters of nice speculation, but as laying most powerful obligations upon us to fear and serve, to submit to and trust in, our Creator, owner, Lord, and ruler. Moral good and evil, virtue and vice, were never drawn more to the life (the beauty of the one and the deformity of the other) than in this book; nor the inviolable rule of God’s judgment more plainly laid down, That happy are the righteous, it shall be well with them; and Woe to the wicked, it shall be ill with them. These are not questions of the schools to keep the learned world in action, nor engines of state to keep the unlearned world in awe; no, it appears by this book that they are sacred truths of undoubted certainty, and which all the wise and sober part of mankind have in every age subscribed and submitted to. (2.) It presents us with a specimen of Gentile piety. This great saint descended probably not from Abraham, but Nahor; or, if from Abraham, not from Isaac, but from one of the sons of the concubines that were sent into the east-country (Gen. 25:6); or, if from Isaac, yet not from Jacob, but Esau; so that he was out of the pale of the covenant of peculiarity, no Israelite, no proselyte, and yet none like him for religion, nor such a favourite of heaven upon this earth. It was a truth therefore, before St. Peter perceived it, that in every nation he that fears God and works righteousness is accepted of him, Acts 10:35. There were children of God scattered abroad (Jn. 11:52) besides the incorporated children of the kingdom, Mt. 8:11, 12. (3.) It presents us with an exposition of the book of Providence, and a clear and satisfactory solution of many of the difficult and obscure passages of it. The prosperity of the wicked and the afflictions of the righteous have always been reckoned two as hard chapters as any in that book; but they are here expounded, and reconciled with the divine wisdom, purity, and goodness, by the end of these things. (4.) It presents us with a great example of patience and close adherence to God in the midst of the sorest calamities. Sir Richard Blackmore’s most ingenious pen, in his excellent preface to his paraphrase on this book, makes Job a hero proper for an epic poem; for, says he, "He appears brave in distress and valiant in affliction, maintains his virtue, and with that his character, under the most exasperating provocations that the malice of hell could invent, and thereby gives a most noble example of passive fortitude, a character no way inferior to that of the active hero," etc. (5.) It presents us with an illustrious type of Christ, the particulars of which we shall endeavour to take notice of as we go along. In general, Job was a great sufferer, was emptied and humbled, but in order to his greater glory. So Christ abased himself, that we might be exalted. The learned bishop Patrick quotes St. Jerome ore than once speaking of Job as a type of Christ, who for the job that was set before him endured the cross, who was persecuted, for a time, by men and devils, and seemed forsaken of God too, but was raised to be an intercessor even for his friends and had added affliction to his misery. When the apostle speaks of the patience of Job he immediately takes notice of the end of the Lord, that is, of the Lord Jesus (as some understand it), typified by Job, James 5:11.
2. In this book we have, (1.) The history of Job’s sufferings, and his patience under them (ch. 1, 2, not without a mixture of human frailty, ch. 3. (2.) A dispute between him and his friends upon them, in which, [1.] The opponents were Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. [2.] The respondent was Job. [3.] The moderators were, First, Elihu, ch. 32–37. Secondly, God himself, ch. 38–41. (3.) The issue of all in Job’s honour and prosperity, ch. 42. Upon the whole, we learn that many are the afflictions of the righteous, but that when the Lord delivers them out of them all the trial of their faith will be found to praise, and honour, and glory.
The history of Job begins here with an account, I. Of his great piety in general (v. 1), and in a particular instance (v. 5). II. Of his great prosperity (v. 2-4). III. Of the malice of Satan against him, and the permission he obtained to try his constancy (v. 6–12). IV. Of the surprising troubles that befel him, the ruin of his estate (v. 13–17), and the death of his children (v. 18, 19). V. Of his exemplary patience and piety under these troubles (v. 20–22). In all this he is set forth for an example of suffering affliction, from which no prosperity can secure us, but through which integrity and uprightness will preserve us.
And his sons went and feasted in their houses, every one his day; and sent and called for their three sisters to eat and to drink with them.
We have here a further account of Job’s prosperity and his piety.
I. His great comfort in his children is taken notice of as an instance of his prosperity; for our temporal comforts are borrowed, depend upon others, and are as those about us are. Job himself mentions it as one of the greatest joys of his prosperous estate that his children were about him, ch. 29:5. They kept a circular feast at some certain times (v. 4); they went and feasted in their houses. It was a comfort to this good man, 1. To see his children grown up and settled in the world. All his sons were in houses of their own, probably married, and to each of them he had given a competent portion to set up with. Those that had been olive-plants round his table were removed to tables of their own. 2. To see them thrive in their affairs, and able to feast one another, as well as to feed themselves. Good parents desire, promote, and rejoice in, their children’s wealth and prosperity as their own. 3. To see them in health, no sickness in their houses, for that would have spoiled their feasting and turned it into mourning. 4. Especially to see them live in love, and unity, and mutual good affection, no jars or quarrels among them, no strangeness, no shyness one of another, no strait-handedness, but, though every one knew his own, they lived with as much freedom as if they had had all in common. It is comfortable to the hearts of parents, and comely in the eyes of all, to see brethren thus knit together. Behold, how good and how pleasant it is! Ps. 133:1. 5. It added to his comfort to see the brothers so kind to their sisters, that they sent for them to feast with them; for they were so modest that they would not have gone if they had not been sent for. Those brothers that slight their sisters, care not for their company, and have no concern for their comfort, are ill-bred, ill-natured, and very unlike Job’s sons. It seems their feast was so sober and decent that their sisters were good company for them at it. 6. They feasted in their own houses, not in public houses, where they would be more exposed to temptations, and which were not so creditable. We do not find that Job himself feasted with them. Doubtless they invited him, and he would have been the most welcome guest at any of their tables; nor was it from any sourness or moroseness of temper, or for want of natural affection, that he kept away, but he was old and dead to these things, like Barzillai (2 Sa. 19:35), and considered that the young people would be more free and pleasant if there were none but themselves. Yet he would not restrain his children from that diversion which he denied himself. Young people may be allowed a youthful liberty, provided they flee youthful lusts.
II. His great care about his children is taken notice of as an instance of his piety: for that we are really which we are relatively. Those that are good will be good to their children, and especially do what they can for the good of their souls. Observe (v. 5) Job’s pious concern for the spiritual welfare of his children,
1. He was jealous over them with a godly jealousy; and so we ought to be over ourselves and those that are dearest to us, as far as is necessary to our care and endeavour for their good. Job had given his children a good education, had comfort in them and good hope concerning them; and yet he said, "It may be, my sons have sinned in the days of their feasting more than at other times, have been too merry, have taken too great a liberty in eating and drinking, and have cursed God in their hearts," that is, "have entertained atheistical or profane thoughts in their minds, unworthy notions of God and his providence, and the exercises of religion." When they were full they were ready to deny God, and to say, Who is the Lord? (Prov. 30:9), ready to forget God and to say, The power of our hand has gotten us this wealth, Deu. 8:12, etc. Nothing alienates the mind more from God than the indulgence of the flesh.
2. As soon as the days of their feasting were over he called them to the solemn exercises of religion. Not while their feasting lasted (let them take their time for that; there is a time for all things), but when it was over, their good father reminded them that they must know when to desist, and not think to fare sumptuously every day; though they had their days of feasting the week round, they must not think to have them the year round; they had something else to do. Note, Those that are merry must find a time to be serious.
3. He sent to them to prepare for solemn ordinances, sent and sanctified them, ordered them to examine their own consciences and repent of what they had done amiss in their feasting, to lay aside their vanity and compose themselves for religious exercises. Thus he kept his authority over them for their good, and they submitted to it, though they had got into houses of their own. Still he was the priest of the family, and at his altar they all attended, valuing their share in his prayers more than their share in his estate. Parents cannot give grace to their children (it is God that sanctifies), but they ought by seasonable admonitions and counsels to further their sanctification. In their baptism they were sanctified to God; let it be our desire and endeavour that they may be sanctified for him.
4. He offered sacrifice for them, both to atone for the sins he feared they had been guilty of in the days of their feasting and to implore for them mercy to pardon and grace to prevent the debauching of their minds and corrupting of their manners by the liberty they had taken, and to preserve their piety and purity.
For he with mournful eyes had often spied,
Scattered on Pleasure’s smooth but treacherous tide,
The spoils of virtue overpowered by sense,
And floating wrecks of ruined innocence.
—Sir R. Blackmore.
Job, like Abraham, had an altar for his family, on which, it is likely, he offered sacrifice daily; but, on this extraordinary occasion, he offered more sacrifices than usual, and with more solemnity, according to the number of them all, one for each child. Parents should be particular in their addresses to God for the several branches of their family. "For this child I prayed, according to its particular temper, genius, and condition," to which the prayers, as well as the endeavours, must be accommodated. When these sacrifices were to be offered, (1.) He rose early, as one in care that his children might not lie long under guilt and as one whose heart was upon his work and his desire towards it. (2.) He required his children to attend the sacrifice, that they might join with him in the prayers he offered with the sacrifice, that the sight of the killing of the sacrifice might humble them much for their sins, for which they deserved to die, and the sight of the offering of it up might lead them to a Mediator. This serious work would help to make them serious again after the days of their gaiety.
5. Thus he did continually, and not merely whenever an occasion of this kind recurred; for he that is washed needs to wash his feet, Jn. 13:10. The acts of repentance and faith must be often renewed, because we often repeat our transgressions. All days, every day, he offered up his sacrifices, was constant to his devotions, and did not omit them any day. The occasional exercises of religion will not excuse us from those that are stated. He that serves God uprightly will serve him continually.
Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan came also among them.
Job was not only so rich and great, but withal so wise and good, and had such an interest both in heaven and earth, that one would think the mountain of his prosperity stood so strong that it could not be moved; but here we have a thick cloud gathering over his head, pregnant with a horrible tempest. We must never think ourselves secure from storms while we are in this lower region. Before we are told how his troubles surprised and seized him here in this visible world, we are here told how they were concerted in the world of spirits, that the devil, having a great enmity to Job for his eminent piety, begged and obtained leave to torment him. It does not at all derogate from the credibility of Job’s story in general to allow that this discourse between God and Satan, in these verses, is parabolical, like that of Micaiah (1 Ki. 22:19, etc.), and an allegory designed to represent the malice of the devil against good men and the divine check and restraint which that malice is under; only thus much further is intimated, that the affairs of this earth are very much the subject of the counsels of the unseen world. That world is dark to us, but we lie very open to it. Now here we have,
I. Satan among the sons of God (v. 6), an adversary (so Satan signifies) to God, to men, to all good: he thrust himself into an assembly of the sons of God that came to present themselves before the Lord. This means either, 1. A meeting of the saints on earth. Professors of religion, in the patriarchal age, were called sons of God (Gen. 6:2); they had then religious assemblies and stated times for them. The King came in to see his guests; the eye of God was on all present. But there was a serpent in paradise, a Satan among the sons of God; when they come together he is among them, to distract and disturb them, stands at their right hand to resist them. The Lord rebuke thee, Satan! Or, 2. A meeting of the angels in heaven. They are the sons of God, ch. 38:7. They came to give an account of their negotiations on earth and to receive new instructions. Satan was one of them originally; but how hast thou fallen, O Lucifer! He shall no more stand in that congregation, yet he is here represented, as coming among them, either summoned to appear as a criminal or connived at, for the present, though an intruder.
II. His examination, how he came thither (v. 7): The Lord said unto Satan, Whence comest thou? He knew very well whence he came, and with what design he came thither, that as the good angels came to do good he came for a permission to do hurt; but he would, by calling him to an account, show him that he was under check and control. Whence comest thou? He asks this, 1. As wondering what brought him thither. Is Saul among the prophets? Satan among the sons of God? Yes, for he transforms himself into an angel of light (2 Co. 11:13, 14), and would seem one of them. Note, It is possible that a man may be a child of the devil and yet be found in the assemblies of the sons of God in this world, and there may pass undiscovered by men, and yet be challenged by the all-seeing God. Friend, how camest thou in hither? Or, 2. As enquiring what he had been doing before he came thither. The same question was perhaps put to the rest of those that presented themselves before the Lord, "Whence came you?" We are accountable to God for all our haunts and all the ways we traverse.
III. The account he gives of himself and of the tour he had made. I come (says he) from going to and fro on the earth. 1. He could not pretend he had been doing any good, could give no such account of himself as the sons of God could, who presented themselves before the Lord, who came from executing his orders, serving the interest of his kingdom, and ministering to the heirs of salvation. 2. He would not own he had been doing any hurt, that he had been drawing men from the allegiance to God, deceiving and destroying souls; no. I have done no wickedness, Prov. 30:20. Thy servant went nowhere. In saying that he had walked to and fro through the earth, he intimates that he had kept himself within the bounds allotted him, and had not transgressed his bounds; for the dragon is cast out into the earth (Rev. 12:9) and not yet confined to his place of torment. While we are on this earth we are within his reach, and with so much subtlety, swiftness, and industry, does he penetrate into all the corners of it, that we cannot be in any place secure from his temptations. 3. He yet seems to give some representation of his own character. (1.) Perhaps it is spoken proudly, and with an air of haughtiness, as if he were indeed the prince of this world, as if the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them were his (Lu. 4:6), and he had now been walking in circuit through his own territories. (2.) Perhaps it is spoken fretfully, and with discontent. He had been walking to and fro, and could find no rest, but was as much a fugitive and a vagabond as Cain in the land of Nod. (3.) Perhaps it is spoken carefully: "I have been hard at work, going to and fro," or (as some read it) "searching about in the earth," really in quest of an opportunity to do mischief. He walks abut seeking whom he may devour. It concerns us therefore to be sober and vigilant.
IV. The question God puts to him concerning Job (v. 8): Hast thou considered my servant Job? As when we meet with one that has been in a distant place, where we have a friend we dearly love, we are ready to ask, "You have been in such a place; pray did you see my friend there?" Observe, 1. How honourably God speaks of Job: He is my servant. Good men are God’s servants, and he is pleased to reckon himself honoured in their services, and they are to him for a name and a praise (Jer. 13:11) and a crown of glory, Isa. 62:3. "Yonder is my servant Job; there is none like him, none I value like him, of all the princes and potentates of the earth; one such saint as he is worth them all: none like him for uprightness and serious piety; many do well, but he excelleth them all; there is not to be found such great faith, no, not in Israel." Thus Christ, long after, commended the centurion and the woman of Canaan, who were both of them, like Job, strangers to that commonwealth. The saints glory in God—Who is like thee among the gods? and he is pleased to glory in them—Who is like Israel among the people? So here, none like Job, none in earth, that state of imperfection. Those in heaven do indeed far outshine him; those who are least in that kingdom are greater than he; but on earth there is not his like. There is none like him in that land; so some good men are the glory of their country. 2. How closely he gives to Satan this good character of Job: Hast thou set thy heart to my servant Job? designing hereby, (1.) To aggravate the apostasy and misery of that wicked spirit: "How unlike him are thou!" Note, The holiness and happiness of the saints are the shame and torment of the devil and the devil’s children. (2.) To answer the devil’s seeming boast of the interest he had in this earth. "I have been walking to and fro in it," says he, "and it is all my own; all flesh have corrupted their way; they all sit still, and are at rest in their sins," Zec. 1:10, 11. "Nay, hold," saith God, "Job is my faithful servant." Satan may boast, but he shall not triumph. (3.) To anticipate his accusations, as if he had said, "Satan, I know thy errand; thou hast come to inform against Job; but hast thou considered him? Does not his unquestionable character give thee the lie?" Note, God knows all the malice of the devil and his instruments against his servants; and we have an advocate ready to appear for us, even before we are accused.
V. The devil’s base insinuation against Job, in answer to God’s encomium of him. He could not deny but that Job feared God, but suggested that he was a mercenary in his religion, and therefore a hypocrite (v. 9): Doth Job fear God for nought? Observe, 1. How impatient the devil was of hearing Job praised, though it was God himself that praised him. Those are like the devil who cannot endure that any body should be praised but themselves, but grudge the just share of reputation others have, as Saul (1 Sa. 18:5, etc.) and the Pharisees, Mt. 21:15. 2. How much at a loss he was for something to object against him; he could not accuse him of any thing that was bad, and therefore charged him with by-ends in doing good. Had the one half of that been true which his angry friends, in the heat of dispute, charged him with (ch. 15:4, 22:5), Satan would no doubt have brought against him now; but no such thing could be alleged, and therefore, 3. See how slyly he censured him as a hypocrite, not asserting that he was so, but only asking, "Is he not so?" This is the common way of slanderers, whisperers, backbiters, to suggest that by way of query which yet they have no reason to think is true. Note, It is not strange if those that are approved and accepted of God be unjustly censured by the devil and his instruments; if they are otherwise unexceptionable, it is easy to charge them with hypocrisy, as Satan charged Job, and they have no way to clear themselves, but patiently to wait for the judgment of God. As there is nothing we should dread more than being hypocrites, so there is nothing we need dread less that being called and counted so without cause. 4. How unjustly he accused him as mercenary, to prove him a hypocrite. It was a great truth that Job did not fear God for nought; he got much by it, for godliness is great gain: but it was a falsehood that he would not have feared God if he had not got this by it, as the event proved. Job’s friends charged him with hypocrisy because he was greatly afflicted, Satan because he greatly prospered. It is no hard matter for those to calumniate that seek an occasion. It is not mercenary to look at the eternal recompence in our obedience; but to aim at temporal advantages in our religion, and to make it subservient to them, is spiritual idolatry, worshipping the creature more than the Creator, and is likely to end in a fatal apostasy. Men cannot long serve God and mammon.
VI. The complaint Satan made of Job’s prosperity, v. 10. Observe, 1. What God had done for Job. He had protected him, made a hedge about him, for the defence of his person, his family, and all his possessions. Note, God’s peculiar people are taken under his special protection, they and all that belong to them; divine grace makes a hedge about their spiritual life, and divine providence about their natural life, so they are safe and easy. He had prospered him, not in idleness or injustice (the devil could not accuse him of them), but in the way of honest diligence: Thou hast blessed the work of his hands. Without that blessing, be the hands ever so strong, ever so skilful, the work will not prosper; but, with that, his substance has wonderfully increased in the land. The blessing of the Lord makes rich: Satan himself owns it. 2. What notice the devil took of it, and how he improved it against him. The devil speaks of it with vexation. "I see thou hast made a hedge about him, round about;" as if he had walked it round, to see if he could spy a single gap in it, for him to enter in at, to do him a mischief; but he was disappointed: it was a complete hedge. The wicked one saw it and was grieved, and argued against Job that the only reason why he served God was because God prospered him. "No thanks to him to be true to the government that prefers him, and to serve a Master that pays him so well."
VII. The proof Satan undertakes to give of the hypocrisy and mercenariness of Job’s religion, if he might but have leave to strip him of his wealth. "Let it be put to this issue," says he (v. 11); "make him poor, frown upon him, turn thy hand against him, and then see where his religion will be; touch what he has and it will appear what he is. If he curse thee not to thy face, let me never be believed, but posted for a liar and false accuser. Let me perish if he curse thee not;" so some supply the imprecation, which the devil himself modestly concealed, but the profane swearers of our age impudently and daringly speak out. Observe, 1. How slightly he speaks of the affliction he desired that Job might be tried with: "Do but touch all that he has, do but begin with him, do but threaten to make him poor; a little cross will change his tone." 2. How spitefully he speaks of the impression it would make upon Job: "He will not only let fall his devotion, but turn it into an open defiance—not only think hardly of thee, but even curse thee to thy face." The word translated curse is barac, the same that ordinarily, and originally, signifies to bless; but cursing God is so impious a thing that the holy language would not admit the name: but that where the sense requires it it must be so understood is plain form 1 Ki. 21:10–13, where the word is used concerning the crime charged on Naboth, that he did blaspheme God and the king. Now, (1.) It is likely that Satan did think that Job, if impoverished, would renounce his religion and so disprove his profession, and if so (as a learned gentleman has observed in his Mount of Spirits) Satan would have made out his own universal empire among the children of men. God declared Job the best man then living: now, if Satan can prove him a hypocrite, it will follow that God had not one faithful servant among men and that there was no such thing as true and sincere piety in the world, but religion was all a sham, and Satan was king de facto—in fact, over all mankind. But it appeared that the Lord knows those that are his and is not deceived in any. (2.) However, if Job should retain his religion, Satan would have the satisfaction to see him sorely afflicted. He hates good men, and delights in their griefs, as God has pleasure in their prosperity.
VIII. The permission God gave to Satan to afflict Job for the trial of his sincerity. Satan desired God to do it: Put forth thy hand now. God allowed him to do it (v. 12): "All that he has is in thy hand; make the trial as sharp as thou canst; do thy worst at him." Now, 1. It is a matter of wonder that God should give Satan such a permission as this, should deliver the soul of his turtle-dove into the hand of the adversary, such a lamb to such a lion; but he did it for his own glory, the honour of Job, the explanation of Providence, and the encouragement of his afflicted people in all ages, to make a case which, being adjudged, might be a useful precedent. He suffered Job to be tried, as he suffered Peter to be sifted, but took care that his faith should not fail (Lu. 22:32) and then the trial of it was found unto praise, and honour, and glory, 1 Pt. 1:7. But, 2. It is a matter of comfort that God has the devil in a chain, in a great chain, Rev. 20:1. He could not afflict Job without leave from God first asked and obtained, and then no further than he had leave: "Only upon himself put not forth thy hand; meddle not with his body, but only with his estate." It is a limited power that the devil has; he has no power to debauch men but what they give him themselves, nor power to afflict men but what is given him from above.
IX. Satan’s departure from this meeting of the sons of God. Before they broke up, Satan went forth (as Cain, Gen. 4:16) from the presence of the Lord; no longer detained before him (as Doeg was, 1 Sa. 21:7) than till he had accomplished his malicious purpose. He went forth, 1. Glad that he had gained his point, proud of the permission he had to do mischief to a good man; and, 2. Resolved to lose no time, but speedily to put his project in execution. He went forth now, not to go to and fro, rambling through the earth, but with a direct course, to fall upon poor Job, who is carefully going on in the way of his duty, and knows nothing of the matter. What passes between good and bad spirits concerning us we are not aware of.
And there was a day when his sons and his daughters were eating and drinking wine in their eldest brother's house:
We have here a particular account of Job’s troubles.
I. Satan brought them upon him on the very day that his children began their course of feasting, at their eldest brother’s house (v. 13), where, he having (we may suppose) the double portion, the entertainment was the richest and most plentiful. The whole family, no doubt, was in perfect repose, and all were easy and under no apprehension of the trouble, now when they revived this custom; and this time Satan chose, that the trouble, coming now, might be the more grievous. The night of my pleasure has he turned into fear, Isa. 21:4.
II. They all come upon him at once; while one messenger of evil tidings was speaking another came, and, before he had told his story, a third, and a fourth, followed immediately. Thus Satan, by the divine permission, ordered it, 1. That there might appear a more than ordinary displeasure of God against him in his troubles, and by that he might be exasperated against divine Providence, as if it were resolved, right or wrong, to ruin him, and not give him time to speak for himself. 2. That he might not have leisure to consider and recollect himself, and reason himself into a gracious submission, but might be overwhelmed and overpowered by a complication of calamities. If he have not room to pause a little, he will be apt to speak in haste, and then, if ever, he will curse his God. Note, The children of God are often in heaviness through manifold temptations; deep calls to deep; waves and billows come one upon the neck of another. Let one affliction therefore quicken and help us to prepare for another; for, how deep soever we have drunk of the bitter cup, as long as we are in this world we cannot be sure that we have drunk our share and that it will finally pass from us.
III. They took from him all that he had, and made a full end of his enjoyments. The detail of his losses answers to the foregoing inventory of his possessions.
1. He had 500 yoke of oxen, and 500 she-asses, and a competent number of servants to attend them; and all these he lost at once, v. 14, 15. The account he has of this lets him know, (1.) That it was not through any carelessness of his servants; for then his resentment might have spent itself upon them: The oxen were ploughing, not playing, and the asses not suffered to stray and so taken up as waifs, but feeding beside them, under the servant’s eye, each in their place; and those that passed by, we may suppose, blessed them, and said, God speed the plough. Note, All our prudence, care, and diligence, cannot secure us from affliction, no, not from those afflictions which are commonly owing to imprudence and negligence. Except the Lord keep the city, the watchman, though ever so wakeful, wakes but in vain. Yet it is some comfort under a trouble if it found us in the way of our duty, and not in any by-path. (2.) That is was through the wickedness of his neighbours the Sabeans, probably a sort of robbers that lived by spoil and plunder. They carried off the oxen and asses, and slew the servants that faithfully and bravely did their best to defend them, and one only escaped, not in kindness to him or his master, but that Job might have the certain intelligence of it by an eye-witness before he heard it by a flying report, which would have brought it upon him gradually. We have no reason to suspect that either Job or his servants had given any provocation to the Sabeans to make this inroad, but Satan put it into their hearts to do it, to do it now, and so gained a double point, for he made both Job to suffer and them to sin. Note, When Satan has God’s permission to do mischief he will not want mischievous men to be his instruments in doing it, for he is a spirit that works in the children of disobedience.
2. He had 7000 sheep, and shepherds that kept them; and all those he lost at the same time by lightning, v. 16. Job was perhaps, in his own mind, ready to reproach the Sabeans, and fly out against them for their injustice and cruelty, when the next news immediately directs him to look upwards: The fire of God has fallen from heaven. As thunder is his voice, so lightning is his fire: but this was such an extraordinary lightning, and levelled so directly against Job, that all his sheep and shepherds were not only killed, but consumed by it at once, and one shepherd only was left alive to carry the news to poor Job. The devil, aiming to make him curse God and renounce his religion, managed this part of the trial very artfully, in order thereto. (1.) His sheep, with which especially he used to honour God in sacrifice, were all taken from him, as if God were angry at his offerings and would punish him in those very things which he had employed in his service. Having misrepresented Job to God as a false servant, in pursuance of his old design to set Heaven and earth at variance, he here misrepresented God to Jacob as a hard Master, who would not protect those flocks out of which he had so many burnt-offerings. This would tempt Job to say, It is in vain to serve God. (2.) The messenger called the lightning the fire of God (and innocently enough), but perhaps Satan thereby designed to strike into his mind this thought, that God had turned to be his enemy and fought against him, which was much more grievous to him than all the insults of the Sabeans. He owned (ch. 31:23) that destruction from God was a terror to him. How terrible then were the tidings of this destruction, which came immediately from the hand of God! Had the fire from heaven consumed the sheep upon the altar, he might have construed it into a token of God’s favour; but, the fire consuming them in the pasture, he could not but look upon it as a token of God’s displeasure. There have not been the like since Sodom was burned.
3. He had 3000 camels, and servants tending them; and he lost them all at the same time by the Chaldeans, who came in three bands, and drove them away, and slew the servants, v. 17. If the fire of God, which fell upon Job’s honest servants, who were in the way of their duty, had fallen upon the Sabean and Chaldean robbers who were doing mischief, God’s judgments therein would have been like the great mountains, evident and conspicuous; but when the way of the wicked prospers, and they carry off their booty, while just and good men are suddenly cut off, God’s righteousness is like the great deep, the bottom of which we cannot find, Ps. 36:6.
4. His dearest and most valuable possessions were his ten children; and, to conclude the tragedy, news if brought him, at the same time, that they were killed and buried in the ruins of the house in which they were feasting, and all the servants that waited on them, except one that came express with the tidings of it, v. 18, 19. This was the greatest of Job’s losses, and which could not but go nearest him; and therefore the devil reserved it for the last, that, if the other provocations failed, this might make him curse God. Our children are pieces of ourselves; it is very hard to part with them, and touches a good man in as tender a part as any. But to part with them all at once, and for them to be all cut off in a moment, who had been so many years his cares and hopes, went to the quick indeed. (1.) They all died together, and not one of them was left alive. David, though a wise and good man, was very much discomposed by the death of one son. How hard then did it bear upon poor Job who lost them all, and, in one moment, was written childless! (2.) They died suddenly. Had they been taken away by some lingering disease, he would have had notice to expect their death, and prepare for the breach; but this came upon him without giving him any warning. (3.) They died when they were feasting and making merry. Had they died suddenly when they were praying, he might the better have borne it. He would have hoped that death had found them in a good frame if their blood had been mingled with their feast, where he himself used to be jealous of them that they had sinned, and cursed God in their hearts—to have that day come upon them unawares, like a thief in the night, when perhaps their heads were overcharged with surfeiting and drunkenness—this could not but add much to his grief, considering what a tender concern he always had for his children’s souls, and that they were now out of the reach of the sacrifices he used to offer according to the number of them all. See how all things come alike to all. Job’s children were constantly prayed for by their father, and lived in love one with another, and yet came to this untimely end. (4.) They died by a wind of the devil’s raising, who is the prince of the power of the air (Eph. 2:2), but it was looked upon to be an immediate hand of God, and a token of his wrath. So Bildad construed it (ch. 8:4): Thy children have sinned against him, and he has cast them away in their transgression. (5.) They were taken away when he had most need of them to comfort him under all his other losses. Such miserable comforters are all creatures. In God only we have a present help at all times.
Then Job arose, and rent his mantle, and shaved his head, and fell down upon the ground, and worshipped,
The devil had done all he desired leave to do against Job, to provoke him to curse God. He had touched all he had, touched it with a witness; he whom the rising sun saw the richest of all the men in the east was before night poor to a proverb. If his riches had been, as Satan insinuated, the only principle of his religion now that he had lost his riches he would certainly have lost his religion; but the account we have, in these verses, of his pious deportment under his affliction, sufficiently proved the devil a liar and Job an honest man.
I. He conducted himself like a man under his afflictions, not stupid and senseless, like a stock or stone, not unnatural and unaffected at the death of his children and servants; no (v. 20), he arose, and rent his mantle, and shaved his head, which were the usual expressions of great sorrow, to show that he was sensible of the hand of the Lord that had gone out against him; yet he did not break out into any indecencies, nor discover any extravagant passion. He did not faint away, but arose, as a champion to the combat; he did not, in a heat, throw off his clothes, but very gravely, in conformity to the custom of the country, rent his mantle, his cloak, or outer garment; he did not passionately tear his hair, but deliberately shaved his head. By all this it appeared that he kept his temper, and bravely maintained the possession and repose of his own soul, in the midst of all these provocations. The time when he began to show his feelings is observable; it was not till he heard of the death of his children, and then he arose, then he rent his mantle. A worldly unbelieving heart would have said, "Now that the meat is gone it is well that the mouths are gone too; now that there are no portions it is well that there are no children:" but Job knew better, and would have been thankful if Providence had spared his children, though he had little of nothing for them, for Jehovah-jireh—the Lord will provide. Some expositors, remembering that it was usual with the Jews to rend their clothes when they heard blasphemy, conjecture that Job rent his clothes in a holy indignation at the blasphemous thoughts which Satan now cast into his mind, tempting him to curse God.
II. He conducted himself like a wise and good man under his affliction, like a perfect and upright man, and one that feared God and eschewed the evil of sin more than that of outward trouble.
1. He humbled himself under the hand of God, and accommodated himself to the providences he was under, as one that knew how to want as well as how to abound. When God called to weeping and mourning he wept and mourned, rent his mantle and shaved his head; and, as one that abased himself even to the dust before God, he fell down upon the ground, in a penitent sense of sin and a patient submission to the will of God, accepting the punishment of his iniquity. Hereby he showed his sincerity; for hypocrites cry not when God binds them, ch. 36:13. Hereby he prepared himself to get good by the affliction; for how can we improve the grief which we will not feel?
2. He composed himself with quieting considerations, that he might not be disturbed and put out of the possession of his own soul by these events. He reasons from the common state of human life, which he describes with application to himself: Naked came I (as others do) out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither, into the lap of our common mother—the earth, as the child, when it is sick or weary, lays its head in its mother’s bosom. Dust we were in our original, and to dust we return in our exit (Gen. 3:19), to the earth as we were (Eccl. 12:7), naked shall we return thither, whence we were taken, namely, to the clay, ch. 33:6. St. Paul refers to this of Job, 1 Tim. 6:7. We brought nothing of this world’s goods into the world, but have them from others; and it is certain that we can carry nothing out, but must leave them to others. We come into the world naked, not only unarmed, but unclothed, helpless, shiftless, not so well covered and fenced as other creatures. The sin we are born in makes us naked, to our shame, in the eyes of the holy God. We go out of the world naked; the body does, though the sanctified soul goes clothed, 2 Co. 5:3. Death strips us of all our enjoyments; clothing can neither warm nor adorn a dead body. This consideration silenced Job under all his losses. (1.) He is but where he was at first. He looks upon himself only as naked, not maimed, not wounded; he was himself still his own man, when nothing else was his own, and therefore but reduced to his first condition. Nemo tam pauper potest esse quam natus est—no one can be so poor as he was when born.—Min. Felix. If we are impoverished, we are not wronged, nor much hurt, for we are but as we were born. (2.) He is but where he must have been at last, and is only unclothed, or unloaded rather, a little sooner than he expected. If we put off our clothes before we go to bed, it is some inconvenience, but it may be the better borne when it is near bed-time.
3. He gave glory to God, and expressed himself upon this occasion with a great veneration for the divine Providence, and a meek submission to its disposals. We may well rejoice to find Job in this good frame, because this was the very thing upon which the trial of his integrity was put, though he did not know it. The devil said that he would, under his affliction, curse God; but he blessed him, and so proved himself an honest man.
(1.) He acknowledged the hand of God both in the mercies he had formerly enjoyed and in the afflictions he was now exercised with: The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away. We must own the divine Providence, [1.] In all our comforts. God gave us our being, made us, and not we ourselves, gave us our wealth; it was not our own ingenuity or industry that enriched us, but God’s blessing on our cares and endeavours. He gave us power to get wealth, not only made the creatures for us, but bestowed upon us our share. [2.] In all our crosses. The same that gave hath taken away; and may he not do what he will with his own? See how Job looks above instruments, and keeps his eye upon the first Cause. He does not say, "The Lord gave, and the Sabeans and Chaldeans have taken away; God made me rich, and the devil has made me poor;" but, "He that gave has taken;" and for that reason he is dumb, and has nothing to say, because God did it. He that gave all may take what, and when, and how much he pleases. Seneca could argue thus, Abstulit, sed et dedit—he took away, but he also gave; and Epictetus excellently (cap. 15), "When thou art deprived of any comfort, suppose a child taken away by death, or a part of thy estate lost, say not apoµlesa auto—I have lost it; but apedoµka—I have restored it to the right owner; but thou wilt object (says he), kakos ho aphelomenos—he is a bad man that has robbed me; to which he answers, ti de soi melei—What is it to thee by what hand he that gives remands what he gave?"
(2.) He adored God in both. When all was gone he fell down and worshipped. Note, Afflictions must not divert us from, but quicken us to, the exercises of religion. Weeping must not hinder sowing, nor hinder worshipping. He eyed not only the hand of God, but the name of God, in his afflictions, and gave glory to that: Blessed be the name of the Lord. He has still the same great and good thoughts of God that ever he had, and is as forward as ever to speak them forth to his praise; he can find in his heart to bless God even when he takes away as well as when he gives. Thus must we sing both of mercy and judgment, Ps. 101:1. [1.] He blesses God for what was given, though now it was taken away. When our comforts are removed from us we must thank God that ever we had them and had them so much longer than we deserved. Nay, [2.] He adores God even in taking away, and gives him honour by a willing submission; nay, he gives him thanks for good designed him by his afflictions, for gracious supports under his afflictions, and the believing hopes he had of a happy issue at last.
Lastly, Here is the honourable testimony which the Holy Ghost gives to Job’s constancy and good conduct under his afflictions. He passed his trials with applause, v. 22. In all this Job did not act amiss, for he did not attribute folly to God, nor in the least reflect upon his wisdom in what he had done. Discontent and impatience do in effect charge God with folly. Against the workings of these therefore Job carefully watched; and so must we, acknowledging that as God has done right, but we have done wickedly, so God has done wisely, but we have done foolishly, very foolishly. Those who not only keep their temper under crosses and provocations, but keep up good thoughts of God and sweet communion with him, whether their praise be of men or no, it will be of God, as Job’s here was.