The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
Then answered Zophar the Naamathite, and said,The First Speech of Zophar.
Commentators have not much to say of Zophar that can be considered favourable. By what seems an inexplicable consent they seem to have agreed to condemn Zophar as irascible, contemptuous, supercilious, and the like. We hardly feel that the condemnation is just. The speech is before us, and every man can form his own opinion about it, but our contention will be that within the four corners of this speech there is really no reason to pour contempt upon the speaker. We have been told that Eliphaz was a seer, a man who saw sights in the darkness, a man of wondrous intuition; that Bildad was great in tradition, in ancient literature, and fortified himself by the consolidated wisdom of the ages; and of Zophar it is said that he represented the commonplace thought or the popular orthodoxy of his day. It is easy to say this, and it would seem that the temptation to some minds is too strong to be resisted when there is an opportunity to condemn some one. There is a cant that prides itself in running down what it calls the commonplace orthodoxy of the day. Even assuming Zophar to occupy that point of view, and to repeat with some distinctness and almost positiveness the dogmas which had been established in his time, we must remember that a man is not necessarily a genius because he is a heretic If it were so, the world would die of genius. There are so many heretics, little heretics and great heretics, and heretics of every degree between the two points; so that if heresy were a sign of genius who could bear the splendour of its blaze? It would consume an earth some eight thousand miles through it. And if all this were significant of independence of mind, where would be society, common esteem, mutual trust and regard? What, therefore, if we venture to put in one word for orthodoxy, and not to gather up all the conclusions of long centuries, and turn them out with contempt as though they had been encumbering the ground, or hindering the education of the world? Narrow interpretations of them may have been doing so, petty sectarian limitations of them can do nothing but mischief; but then there is a right interpretation of orthodoxy as well as a narrow and imperfect one. Our steady contention has been that all the great thoughts that have ever influenced the world for good belong to the evangelical line of thinking, when that line is properly discerned, measured, and applied: unhappily, knavish hands have been laid upon it, and minds unequal to the occasion have endeavoured to deal with it, and therefore an unworthy reputation has been attached to it, an unworthy reputation amounting to a positive stigma. Still, we must be just. We cannot gratefully forget our best ancestors. We ought not to be the men who are put away from our old standpoints simply by the wave of some man's hand, when we are not sure that there is anything in the hand but its power of waving. Let us, therefore, stand by Zophar, so far at least as to examine what he says, carefully and patiently, and if we find it to be such very vile commonplace let us say so, and join the majority; if, on the other hand, we find the man to be a clear thinker, and a good, strong, terse, pointed speaker, let us say so, and weigh well what he has declared.
It has been supposed that Zophar was young; certainly the youngest of the three comforters, because in Oriental lands great deference was paid to age, and certainly juvenility would not speak until a multitude of days had declared itself. Probably, therefore, Zophar was comparatively young. He was supposed to be coarse. Truly he did speak to Job in a tone to which Job himself had not been accustomed. But what is coarseness? Is there any one handy and final definition even of that term? Is not even that word a relative one? and may there not be a moral indignation hardly distinguishable from what some men call coarseness? Surely there may be a time in human controversy and in religious conflict when men may speak words that are somewhat wanting in mere decoration and ornament, and they may come down too squarely and positively upon what they believe to be realities. But it is not the part of refinement to talk much about the coarseness of other men. It will probably be found, that the more a man is a gentleman the more gentlemen he discovers round about him. Do not be terrified by the criticism that calls a man from whom it differs a man of coarse and violent speeches. "Zophar"—perhaps there may be an explanation in his name. If a certain line of etymology be chosen, we shall find that Zophar means "the yellow one." And all yellow men are impulsive, hopeful, radiant; they are going to leap over the hills; and as for the rivers, they will dry them up by the ardour of their enthusiasm. Men ought not to be blamed for being yellow-haired and yellow-skinned: for they had no choice in the matter. We must have some yellow ones amongst us—bright, impulsive, daring, enterprising men. They cannot all be black. The world owes a good deal to its yellow sons, its men of fire, its men who speak first and think afterwards: its leaping men who bound on, if haply it be only to come back again and say, There is no road down there. Let us be gentle, considerate, just: with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. One colour cannot understand another. There are colours that shrink away from one another, saying, We have nothing in common; do not mix us, or you will be affrighted by the hideous result. One man can hardly understand another; yet the less he understands him the more prone he may be to condemn him. All men are God's children. We are all parts of the great family in heaven and on earth. The Eliphaz who sees visions, the Bildad who remembers history, the Zophar who is enterprising, adventurous, daring, almost to imprudence, all belong to the great household presided over by the living God; and it must not be the part of one brother to exclude or condemn another. There is an unfortunateness even in the matter of natural spirits. It is surely no little weight to carry to see in every man something bright, in every darkness some shining star, and to hear in every wind some whispered gospel. The very buoyancy of some men becomes to them in periods of reaction a great suffering. Then Zophar was a "Naamathite." That word means "pleasantness," land of the sunshine, country of the morning; a fair genial soil that caught the earliest rays of the orient. So we have a man of highly-strung spirit; bright, dashing, enthusiastic, full of sunshine; a man who had lived on sunlight all his days: what wonder if with some brusqueness he clears his way to the centre, and says with considerable definiteness that Job is too great a talker to be much of a reasoner? All these things are matters of inference. Certainly in the ancient times names were significant of character; it may be, therefore, that the explanation of what is condemned in Zophar may be really constitutional.
But let us hear the speech, and judge by its manner and its reasoning:
"Should not the multitude [torrent] of words be answered? and should a man full of talk be justified?" (Job 5:2).
What justification had Zophar for describing Job's speech as a torrent—a very cataract of words? He had some justification. Certainly the astounding eloquence of Job was likely to bring upon him some criticism of this kind. Let us take our English Bible as a help towards verbal measurements. Bildad had made a speech which occupies twenty-two verses of the English Bible; Job returned an answer which occupies fifty-seven verses of the same book, and many of the verses are longer. Job seemed to become all words in this marvellous response. Then consider how an impatient man measures a speech. An impulsive hearer measures a speaker by his own impulsiveness. He wants the speaker to sit down that he himself may have a chance of standing up. There are men who could listen for hours, and think the speaker too short; they would have him proceed with his argument and complete it like an edifice designed in exquisite proportions, and coloured so as to express the highest meanings. There are other men who cannot sit still. The most of men are lacking in that power: they are anticipating the speaker, answering an argument before they hear it, multiplying the words by their own impatience, so that even when a reasonably long speech is concluded they call it "a torrent of words." There are some men who have made no little mark in their country's progress who have been condemned on the ground of "verbosity." "And should a man full of talk be justified?" Rather, "And should a man of lips be justified?" A Hebraism suggesting that Job was "all lips," had lost every feature but his "lips," and all round about him he was "lips,"—simply a talking and word-multiplying machine. No doubt this kind of characterisation of Job's eloquence is the explanation of the severity with which Zophar has been treated by his critics. But honesty sometimes takes short cuts to the end it proposes to reach. Zophar may have been terse and honest. Yet Zophar is philosophically correct If a man runs out in words only, he is enfeebling himself, contracting his own capacity, occupying a wrong standpoint in relation to all the mysteries and energies of the universe. Silence is often, if not always, golden.
"Should thy lies [rather, boasting] make men hold their peace?" (Job 5:3).
The word is not "lies," in the sense of charging Job with speaking direct and known falsehoods; but Job is boasting, defending himself, holding up his own virtue, and saying, Look at it: it is like a piece of pure porcelain, without flaw or rent or hair's-breadth of inferiority. Job has been making toys, and exhibiting all these toys to his three visitors, and Zophar has become impatient with the exhibition. "And when thou mockest, shall no man make thee ashamed?" We have seen that there was a tone of mockery in Job's reply to Bildad? We remember that in the ninth chapter, Job 11:2, wherein Job exclaims, "I know it is so of a truth," we found that to be a latent sarcasm; not at all evident in English as it stands before us, but a hidden mockery and jibe, as who should say, Of course, ye wise men, I perfectly understand what ye are talking about: you want to display your wisdom, whereas I know that your wisdom is folly. Zophar did not like mockery; and his resentment of it was all the better because it was not himself who was mocked. Up to this time he has not spoken; when, therefore, he charges Job with mockery he really defends his own companions in this visit of condolence, for it was their speech which elicited the mockery of the patriarch.
What, then, was Zophar's point of view? Precisely that of the former speaker. We see no difference between the introduction of Zophar's speech and the introduction of Bildad's. Bildad said (Job 8:2), "How long wilt thou speak these things? and how long shall the words of thy mouth be like a strong wind?" Zophar said, "should not the multitude of words be answered? and should a man full of talk be justified?" Why, then, shall Bildad be reckoned with the philosophers, and Zophar reckoned with impertinent men? Up to this time they have had nothing but words to answer, and yet the words have been absolutely and flatly contradicted by the very facts which Job represented. This was the position the men occupied; they said, The words of Job are one thing, and the condition in which Job is living is another, and there is no harmony or consistency between the two. When words are not borne out by facts it is right to characterise them by such terms as "a strong wind." If the men had met for talk only—if they had said, Let us appoint a meeting for the sake of speaking to one another as much as we possibly can, Job would have been facile princeps. Who could talk like Job? What other man had such command of dignified speech and illustration? But there was no meeting for mere talking: the men had come together to address themselves to a particular set of circumstances, and Job was not speaking to these, but speaking miles above them, and might have delivered precisely the same speeches if he himself had been in flourishing and prosperous circumstances.
The reply of Zophar, therefore, was not wanting in justice. Take instances which will at once illustrate this position. When a man who is a bankrupt prates about financial skill, declares that he could occupy with advantage the position of chief financial director of the country, when he delivers long lectures upon the political economy of nations, who can forget that he is a bankrupt, and is therefore, by so much, without being coarse, a liar? Consider the case well: the man is telling all the country how its finances ought to be managed; he is finding flaws in every statement, exposing the errors of every statistical demonstration: he is an incarnate pence-table. What a Chancellor of the Exchequer he would make! How by some baton he would wave all tumult into harmony and music! But the painful thought recurs that he is himself a bankrupt. That must tell against him. He will come to be regarded as a man full of talk; his speech will be considered as "a strong wind," his eloquence will be described as "a torrent of words,"—why? Because his speech and his condition do not accord the one with the other. Yet he may possibly be the genius he claims to be. So singularly are we constituted, that there is hardly a man anywhere who is able to manage, at least in words, the finances of his country, who could pay his own personal obligations. Take another instance. If you find a man who is prepared to teach people how to speak—how to speak their native tongue with clearness, precision, daintiness, finely-toned emphasis, exquisite effect; if all this be upon his prospectus, and when you go to see the teacher you find him a mumbling man, who cannot pronounce any one word in his mother-tongue as it ought to be pronounced, the facts will be somewhat against him; you will say, This is mere talk, mere boasting, mere pretence: should thy boastings make men hold their peace? Zophar was in presence of exactly such conditions. Job was boasting of his integrity and his virtue; yet all the while he was lying on the ground, as it were, covered with sores, wholly dismantled, unmanned, lacerated as by the whip of heaven; and Zophar, feeling that God was a God of justice, had in his heart at least the thought—If this man had not somehow sinned, he would not have been lying in exactly these circumstances. Zophar's education upon this point might indeed have been incomplete: probably we shall find that to be the case; but a man who lives in one century cannot be rich with the wisdom of the century that is to come: he must be the contemporary of himself as well as the contemporary of other men, and can only walk according to the light of the day in which he lives. Zophar's theory was: If men do good, God will keep them in security and in honour; if men do evil, God will cast them out of the castle of his providence, the sanctuary of his benediction, and they shall be left to bear the rough winds of heaven without a roof to cover them. He found Job in this kind of condition, and reasoned inwardly, if not outwardly, that Job must have been committing some secret and unexplained iniquity. What do we say when a diseased man lectures his friends upon the subject of health? When, sitting up with somewhat of a cripple's gait, he says you ought to rise at such an hour in the morning, or keep such a programme of daily culture and discipline, obey the laws which he will enumerate that you may the better recollect them, and then promises that you will be healthy, strong, robust, radiant, and happy,—who can resist casting just a side-glance at least at the lecturer, and who can hinder his heart from saying, "Physician, heal thyself"? Now it was exactly in such circumstances that Job appeared at least to his three comforters. He was lecturing upon integrity, and virtue, and perfectness of character, and right relations to heaven, and if the men did now and then wonder why he should have been smitten thus, they were but human in their reasoning. On the other hand, all these men—the great financier, the imperfect speaker, the diseased lecturer upon health—may have a distinct function, characterised by high utility: if they will make themselves warnings, and not examples, they will accept the intimations of providence and be faithful to the purpose of God. Let a man who himself has failed say, "Look at me, and beware: I will tell you where I got wrong; I began at the wrong point, I took hold of everything by the wrong end; I will deliver you a short address upon my blunders, not upon my excellences—for I have few—that by hearing me recite my errors you may at least have the chance of avoiding them. Then infirmest men have a place in human education, unfortunate lives have something to say to us, unsuccessful baffled men may come and claim to speak to us all, and we should listen with both ears, and with our whole heart, because we may even now, though life is far advanced, be enabled to turn right round and begin again; and the young, if wise, will accept the monitions of history, and profit by the failures of other men.
One closing word of application. May we not have argued about providences when we ought to have prayed respecting them? May we not sometimes have betaken ourselves to defences of personal conduct, when we ought to have betaken ourselves to searching scrutiny into motive and thought and purpose? The question is not what defence we have before men, but what answer we have to the living God. Job has already discovered this, and has not kept back the truth. We have heard him say, if man will contend with God, man cannot answer God one of a thousand: in other words, God has not only a solitary case against us, an individual lapse, a particular and namable iniquity, saying to each man, You have got wrong only once, and these are the facts; the charge which God has against man is a charge of total collapse, so that when we have concluded one defence we must enter upon another; we no sooner bring to a period our most resonant defences than another impeachment is hurled upon us, and we have to reply to the still larger accusation. There is none righteous, no, not one; all we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned every one to his own way. We can deal with the case after one of two methods: we can make it a matter of words, trying to build ourselves round with a wall of expression, rhetoric, eloquence; or we can throw ourselves down before the living One, saying—God be merciful to me a sinner: I do not see everything; thou seest things as they really are: I am conscious of infirmity, incompleteness, irresoluteness, and I know myself too well to begin a plea of self-justification—God pity me; Christ save me; Spirit of the living God, do not abandon me!
Bildad ("son of contention," if Gesenius' derivation be correct), the second of Job's three friends. He is called "the Shuhite," which implies both his family and nation. Shuah was the name of a son of Abraham and Keturah, and of an Arabian tribe sprung from him, when he had been sent eastward by his father. Bildad takes a share in each of the three controversies with Job (viii., xviii., xxv). He follows in the train of Eliphaz, but with more violent declamation, less argument, and keener invective. His address is abrupt and untender, and in his very first speech he cruelly attributes the death of Job's children to their own transgressions, and loudly calls on Job to repent of his supposed crimes.
Eliphaz, the chief of the three friends of Job. He is called "the Temanite;" hence it is naturally inferred that he was a descendant of Teman (the son of the first Eliphaz), from whom a portion of Arabia Petraea took its name, and whose name is used as a poetical parallel to Edom in Jeremiah 49:20. On him falls the main burden of the argument, that God's retribution in this world is perfect and certain, and that consequently suffering must be a proof of previous sin (Job 4, Job 5, Job 15, Job 22). His words are distinguished from those of Bildad and Zophar by greater calmness and elaboration, and in the first instance by greater gentleness towards Job, although he ventures afterwards, apparently from conjecture, to impute to him special sins. The great truth brought out by him is the unapproachable majesty and purity of God (Job 5:12-21, Job 15:12-16). But still, with the other two friends, he is condemned for having, in defence of God's providence, spoken of him, "the thing that was not right," i.e., by refusing to recognise the facts of human life, and by contenting himself with an imperfect retribution as worthy to set forth the righteousness of God. On sacrifice and the intercession of Job all three are pardoned,—Smith's Dictionary of the Bible.
The First Speech of Zophar. II.
Job 11 "For thou hast said, My doctrine is pure, and I am clean in thine eyes" (
"For thou hast said, My doctrine is pure, and I am clean in thine eyes" (Job 11:4).
This is both right and wrong. Everything depends upon the relations in which we set the statement which is now made. Job had made this whole affair into a question of words—the larger words and better called in the fourth verse "doctrine," a word which comes from a root which signifies "to receive." Job had received certain teaching, certain theories of the universe and of human life, and in spite of all contradictory facts he declared that his doctrine was pure, and that he himself was clean in God's eye. Yet it was wrong to make this controversy a personal question at all. What is any one man, though great as Job, that he should set himself up against the whole scheme of things as it has been interpreted for ages? The three comforters represented old time, historic teaching, actual human experience, and they brought all that they knew of human history to bear upon a solitary instance; and their reasoning was: The whole scheme of things cannot give Way before a particular instance: after all, Job represents but one set of facts: somehow or other he has come into very unhappy relations with other things; but we must not break up the universe, and reconstruct it, in order to harmonize all things with Job's experience. Job never leaves the personal aspect of the case. Nor was this to be wondered at He suffered so deeply and so largely, not only as to himself but as to his family and to his property; it was natural, therefore, that he should make a very highly personal matter of the whole thing. Yet, if he could have taken the larger view, he would have seen what never discloses itself to merely personal suffering and individual experience; he would have caught a glimpse of the largeness of things; and if he had set up his personal grief against the woe which moans at the heart of the universe, he would have felt that his sorrow after all was not so large and important as he had at one time supposed it to be. The instruction of the narrative is that we must enlarge our view. Even in personal suffering we must take the social or universal conception of things; we must bring the power of an endless life to bear upon the things of the passing moment: in a word, we must govern time—little, dying, misleading time—by solemn, grand eternity.
Zophar's reply was, therefore, fearlessly critical; then it became deeply religious. "But oh that God would speak, and open his lips against thee!" We three have spoken, but our words seem to have produced no effect. Human words come back to human speakers; human controversy swings round a very little sphere: oh that God would join this solemn talk, and speak to thee from high heaven! God is in this, matter somewhere: up to this point, so far as we know, he has been silent,—oh that he would just utter one sentence! it would be brighter than the morning light, it would be larger than the whole firmament as to its meaning: we wrestle, and endeavour to explain; we attempt to sympathise, but all our efforts are futile. There comes a time in human experience when we say, with great meaning in our voice, God must take up this thing; Eliphaz the seer has spoken, Bildad the traditionalist and historian has spoken, Zophar the fearless and orthodox critic has spoken, and we make no progress in the cultivation of this desert,—oh that God would begin the work! That same point occurs in individual training, in family experience, in national affairs; we are brought round again and again to the vital point, at which there is startled out of us some cry for religious illumination and comfort. Zophar would therefore refer Job to God. "And that he would show thee the secrets of wisdom,"—the inner causes, the hidden springs, the vital lines. Wisdom is always secret, but there becomes an aggravated secret in wisdom when we think we have answered the first mystery. Wisdom is all difficult; it is intervolved, complicated, wrought into itself with curious working so that one part belongs to another, and the whole constitutes a revelation. Wisdom is not a thing to be snatched at. We do not acquire wisdom by simply opening our eyes, and walking abroad, and returning to our usual occupations and enjoyments; wisdom is as hidden silver that must be dug for; yea, we must search for it, we must begin early, and work long, and tarry whilst the light lingers: my son, get wisdom, get understanding; with all thy gettings get understanding: she is to be run after, sought after, suffered for; she comes after long wooing,—yea, after fullest sacrifice and devotion. Have no faith in superficial wisdom, in ready answers, in off-handed deliverances from immediate evil. Get on the vital line; connect yourselves with the Well-head of the universe; live and move and have your begin in God. Many have the letter of wisdom who have not its spirit. Zophar points Job to the secrets of wisdom, the little, minute, hidden beginning of things; he would bring him back to germs, and molecules, and the very plasm of wisdom. Knowledge is less than wisdom: wisdom is ennobled, sanctified, and rightly-directed knowledge; yea, it is more than this; it cannot explain itself, but it is justified of its children; it comes up again and again in a thousand forms and hues, and time confirms with willing endorsement all its predictions and all its principles. Then Zophar would have Job shown that the secrets of wisdom "are double to that which is." An extraordinary expression in English. The meaning is, that he would have Job see that the secrets of wisdom are fold upon fold; not simplex—that which is on the surface, one only, to be taken up and laid down with ease, a work that a child might do; but complex, one fold upon another, one fold passing through another,—manifoldness, as the Revised Version has it, "manifold in effectual working"; that is, not superficial, not lineal, not comprehensible at a glance, but a matter of interpenetration, mutual balancing, a mysterious, continuous, beneficent working together. Zophar said, therefore, in effect—Oh that God would show thee how rich wisdom is in holy secrets, and how more than double everything is! What an intertangled and complicated creation we live in! What an amazing labyrinth! Yet he who has the clue can thread all its mazes and find his way to God. This is not the man to be condemned by commentators, as they have condemned Zophar. He seems now to have laid hold of the centre and reality of things. There may have been something exasperating in his tone, or the commentators could not have been so hard upon him; but the exasperation was only vocal: surely here is a soul that grapples with vital difficulties, and that hands heaven's own key to the man who stands perplexed before a gate which he cannot open. We should think much about this complication of affairs. All things work together for good to them that love God. Life is not a long, straight, monotonous path, from the beginning of which we can see the end: nature is engaged in a marvellous chemistry; she is very particular, too, that we should compound our elements and constituents aright, not only that we should have the right things, but the right proportions of them; otherwise that benign Alma Mater will see that the result comes out wrong, and afflict us with keen disappointment Everything in nature is working together with some other thing; yea, who shall say whether all things are not coherent, mutually related, the whole body knit and "compacted by that which every joint supplies"? Better, therefore, often be quiet. Blessed is the man who can stand still and say, God must work out the residue of this process, for I can do nothing further: I will look on, I will pray for keen eyes that I may see somewhat of God's method, for he only can perfect that which is begun in wisdom. Let us stand there. Do not believe in any superficial theory of life. Distrust anything that comes before you with a bald simplicity. Life is not a series of unrelated pebbles; it is not a mere proximity of atoms; it is a coherent, massive, united temple, whose pinnacles glitter in the smile of God. Put away from you every teacher who gives you to feel that life is but a varied flippancy, and that the most frivolous mind can comprehend any portion of the ways of God.
Zophar, having been fearlessly critical, and deeply religious, now turns and becomes morally just. Hear what he says at the end of the sixth verse: "Know therefore that God exacteth of thee less than thine iniquity deserveth." The meaning would seem to be this: Job, thou hast occupied thine own point of view long enough, now endeavour to take God's point of view, and look at all circumstances from that high altitude. This we are bound to do, if we would be just even towards God. We see only our own personality, we feel only our own suffering; we do not set ourselves at the head and spring of things, and observe how all the universe is affected by what is known as coming under the term sin or iniquity,—yea, we have gone so far as to say that the sinner hurts only himself; we say of some poor wanderers, After all, they do but injure themselves; the drunkard injures himself. Nothing of the kind. No man liveth unto himself—in any sense. No sin can be committed without a shadow passing over the face of the whole universe. We have trifled with sin; and because we have lost the right conception of sin we have lost the right conception of grace. Zophar takes the right ground; he says, Whatever suffering any man endures, he endures less than God might in justice inflict upon him. That is a grave and solemn doctrine. If that is true it should itself be to us a great comfort. If we have anything left of life or hope, God has not inflicted upon us all the punishment which one sin deserves. We must not take our own definition of sin, as if we had been present in eternity and foreseen the whole structure of the universe, all its processes and its destiny: what sin is must be revealed to us: another voice, not our own, must tell us what sin really means. One solitary rebellion has in the heart of it this meaning, namely, God must be dethroned. Is that the meaning of one lie? Yes. Is that the signification of one self-willed thought? It is. Not on the surface. We seem to have run into the easy but culpable method of considering that only one sin has been done. There is no sin that is only one sin. Every sin belongs to an innumerable progeny and ancestry and association. The great lesson, therefore, which Zophar teaches is, that however much we may be suffering, if God were to be really just in inflicting upon us an adequate punishment we should be crushed out of existence. Let us, then, take God's standpoint. Do not limit the field of inquiry. Do not suppose that there is only one party to the great controversy which rends human life. How if it should turn out at last that our very punishment has been meted to us in mercy? What if at the end it should be found that: adversity was a veiled evangel sent from heaven to bring us home?
Now see how grand a conception Zophar has of the nature of the living God:
"Canst thou by searching find out God? canst thou find out the Almighty unto perfection? It is as high as heaven; what canst thou do? deeper than hell; what canst thou know? The measure thereof is longer than the earth, and broader than the sea" (Job 11:7-9).
We have come to the same conclusion even with regard to inferior quantities and forces. We are able to confirm the testimony of Zophar. Take space. How glibly we speak about it! We lay a measuring-line upon it, and say, This line is five hundred thousand millions of miles long! Is there any continuation of that line? Yes. What is the whole sum, O thou arithmetician, man of numbers? The arithmetician says—I cannot tell; the mathematician may tell. What is the sum-total of space, O mathematician, the glorified arithmetician, the arithmetician with wings? Tell us, thou adventurous calculator. And the mathematician hands down to us a symbol. We ask him what is the meaning of this symbol, and he says it stands for infinity. Is that all thou canst tell us about space? Yes. When we have gone through a certain number of miles we pause, and say, The rest is infinite. You say that about space? Yes. Not about a life, or a theology, or a mysterious doctrine, but about plain space—the thing we ourselves occupy? And the mathematician answers Yes: measurement expires in infinity, so be it Take time: we count our days by thousands; we speak about "ancient history," and we speak also, eloquently, about "future ages"; now tell us, how many are there of them? And the answer is—a negative. We can speak of millions of years multiplied by millions of years; yea, taking a very huge figure we can cube it—will that express the duration of time? The answer is—a negative. Then how shall we represent the proper duration of time? The answer is, by this expression, namely—For ever and ever. Poor arithmeticians, miserable calculators! We sent you out to bring back the whole thing scheduled and put down before us in plain figures, and see you have come pantingly back, and say, Space runs off into infinity; time expands into for ever and ever. Is that all you can tell us? That is all! Why, then, if this be so about space and time, what about life, the duration of sentient existence, the continuity of all that we mean by the higher faculties of man? Tell us, thou biologist; thou wilt be able to speak with a clearer tongue than the mathematician, or the man who philosophises about time; thou art a more severely scientific man:—What is life? hast thou seen it?—No. Touched it?—indirectly. Measured it?—never. Space runs into infinity, time runs into eternity, life runs into GOD! Who, then, are the fanatics, the enthusiasts? Not they who take a solemn view of the universe; not the men who reason by analogy, saying, If space can but be represented by infinity, and time by eternity, it is at least possible that life can only be truly represented by the term God, the all, the infinite, the eternal, as applied to sentiency, to all the mystery of life. Here, then, we take our stand. We believe in these holy principles. They elevate us; they ennoble us; they save us from all the mistakes of flippancy; they humble us; they chasten us; they make us pray.
Zophar, one of Job's three friends and opponents in argument (Job 2:11, Job 11:1, Job 20:1, Job 42:9). He is called a Naamathite, or inhabitant of Naamah, a place whose situation is unknown, as it could not be the Naamah mentioned in Joshua 15:41. Wemyss, in his Job and his Times (p. 111), well characterises this interlocutor: "Zophar exceeds the other two, if possible, in severity of censure; he is the most inveterate of the accusers, and speaks without feeling or pity. He does little more than repeat and exaggerate the arguments of Bildad. He unfeelingly alludes (Job 11:15) to the effects of Job's disease as appearing in his countenance. This is cruel and invidious. Yet in the same discourse how nobly does he treat of the divine attributes, showing that any inquiry into them is far beyond the grasp of the human mind, and though the hortatory part of the first discourse bears some resemblance to that of Eliphaz, yet it is diversified by the fine imagery which he employs. He seems to have had a full conviction of the providence of God, as regulating and controlling the actions of men; but he limits all his reasonings to a present life, and makes no reference to a future world. This circumstance alone accounts for the weakness and fallacy of these men's judgments. In his second discourse there is much poetical beauty in the selection of images, and the general doctrine is founded in truth; its fallacy lies is in its application to Job's peculiar case. The whole indicates great warmth of temper, imflamed by misapprehension of its object and by mistaken zeal."
Almighty God, if thou wilt hear us, in Jesus Christ thy Son, thy hearing shall be as an answer. It is good to speak unto the Lord; our souls are enlarged and ennobled as they look up from the cross to seek the Father that is in heaven. We have found thee in Christ; he has told us thy will and thy purpose, and somewhat of thy method, and we are now enabled to say, Thou hast done all things well. All things become more beautiful and greater and tenderer as we associate them with thy name and strength; they are sacred when we know that they are thine. The grass of the field is thine, though today it is, and tomorrow it is cast into the oven and is forgotten. Still, even a day is part of thine eternity, and a grass-blade is part of thy property. Not a sparrow falleth to the ground without our Father. Thou dost notice all things, our downsitting and our uprising; thou dost beset us behind and before, and lay thine hand upon us, and take an account of all our ways. Surely when thou art seeking for us thou art seeking for thyself: how else could thy love be so great, so burning, so free, so universal? Are we not made in the image and likeness of God? Is not the seal of divinity upon us even in our weakness? Are we not conscious that we are more than ourselves? Truly we have felt in our hearts uprisings and throbbings which have told of things that are infinite in mystery and in glory. We understand nothing, but how much we feel, what we know by our hearts, what understanding we have through our love; these are the ways by which thou dost come into our spirits, and by which thou dost set up thy kingdom within us. We know how poor we are, and weak and foolish, yea, how sinful, how criminality is written upon all we are and do; and yet below all, and round about all, and higher than all, there are signs of divine regard and infinite possibility, and amid all the garments of sin we feel the beating and pulsing of immortality. We bless thee for these feelings, though they are not daily, though they come but now and then yet in their very coming they show us that they would come more frequently, and that one day, if we live in Christ and Christ live in us, we shall be free of all hindrances and limitations, and shall serve in heaven, in the freedom of the blessed, without weariness, without sense of failure, and with ever-increasing joy, and thankfulness, and rest. Pity all hearts that need thy tenderest ministry. Some hearts are broken, some spirits are wounded, some lives are but a gathering up of disappointment and anxiety: come thou whose delight it is to heal, and restore gladness to the soul that is in distress. Work, thou Mighty One; control and rule and reign thou only; for thy right it is; and give us all to feel, through the cross of Jesus Christ, the blessed Son of God, how sweet a delight is obedience, how gracious a life is led when it is led in the Spirit of the Cross. Amen.
The First Speech of Zophar. III.
There is a vital expression in the fourth verse, "For thou hast said, My doctrine is pure." We have come upon an age which cares little for doctrine. We are, in fact, somewhat afraid of that antiquated term. We prefer anecdote to doctrine, and concrete instances to elaborate spiritual demonstrations. An anecdote will be remembered and rehearsed when the finest argument ever invented by human genius, and ever supported by human eloquence, is utterly forgotten. "'T is true: and pity 't is 't is true." For what is life without doctrine;—that is to say, without teaching, without sound intellectual conviction, without high moral purpose, without that solid and dignified reason which is at once the crown and glory of human life? Why this contempt as regards doctrine, when every action ought to be an embodied philosophy? Every attitude we take upon every question ought to express an inward and spiritual conviction. Where the doctrine is wrong the life cannot be right We are not now speaking of purely metaphysical doctrine, but of that vital teaching which affects all thought and the outgoing of all life: and if a man is operating upon wrong philosophies, wrong principles, mistaken convictions, all the issue of his life is but an elaborate and mischievous mistake. In this instance, however, Zophar corrected Job because he understood that Job was making the whole case only a matter of words. If by "doctrine" you understand nothing but words, then any contempt you may award to it may be justly bestowed. Zophar thought that Job was refining too much, balancing words, inventing and colouring sentences, and making a kind of verbal rainbow round about himself: therefore he took to a severe chastisement of the patriarch. Zophar was mistaken; Job was really basing his argument on those sound and eternal principles which give security to life and hope to all futurity.
Then in the twelfth verse we come upon a still stranger expression:
"For vain man would be wise, though man be born like ft wild ass's colt," (Job 11:12)
Nobody has explained these words to any other person's satisfaction. Each commentator has a view of his own. The one which seems to be supported by the strongest reasoning is that which represents Zophar as saying: Man is born low down; still, there is something in him that kindles at the very word Wisdom: he is like a wild ass's colt by nature; he is made up of a strange mystery of passion and selfishness, ignorance and philosophy, but all the time there is something in him that says: Go forward, climb higher; even yet the lower nature may be vanquished, and the higher nature may be assumed and possessed and enjoyed. It is something to have amongst us men who speak words of hope. It would be dreary living if our prophets were to take simply to upbraiding us because of the lowliness of our origin; they would be children of night, they would belong to the school of darkness, who kept harping upon the fact that we were born like a wild ass's colt, and there is no hope of our ever becoming anything else. Blessed be those brighter-minded men who come amongst us, saying: However low-born you were, you may become a prince; however humble your origin, you may stand among the crowned ones in light; however poor your beginning—a beginning in orphanage and poverty and lowliness—you may become wealthy in thought, in purest feeling, and in philanthropic devotion. Listen to these voices: they come from above; they confirm the divinity of their message by the very tenderness of their humanity.
Now Zophar, the much condemned, follows the example of Eliphaz, and concludes his speech by a very noble appeal. He writes what we may call a spiritual directory. He preaches to one man, and so preaches that every word is marked by gravity, sympathy, and wisdom; therefore he was a great preacher. They are poor preachers who can only address a thousand people at once. Sometimes it is said—by persons who would say better if they knew better—that an audience of ten thousand men is enough to inspire any speaker. Nothing of the kind. He is the great preacher who sees the one man. He who sees one man aright sees all men, and he is a hireling and a left-handed labourer who can never rise to the dignity of the occasion except when inflamed by numerical appearances. See Zophar: how his voice deepens and sharpens, how his eye kindles, how he comes a pace nearer the patriarch when he begins to preach to him! What a discourse it was! Not one waste word in it all. What a gift of terseness! How Zophar could strike without wounding, be precise without being severe, and preach a gospel such as the poor, beclouded, fear-driven heart needed to hear. Therefore, to return to the point from which we started, we cannot join the nearly universal condemnation which has been poured upon Zophar; we rather draw towards him as if with some sense of old kinship. We somewhat like even his sword. Wherever he strikes he cuts the object right in two; there is no mangling, no mere wounding, no half-done work: it was a scimitar that cut off whatever it aimed at. Then how tender he could become, how philosophical, how gracious, how sympathetic! We have seen how he looked up to God, and described him in terms that have never been surpassed for graphic vividness and spiritual grandeur. Few men could turn from that upward look, and fasten their eyes pityingly upon human suffering, and address that suffering as Zophar addressed the patriarch. Let us regard this concluding part of his speech as what we have termed a spiritual directory; then we shall see what we ought to do in similar circumstances.
"If thou prepare thine heart" (Job 11:13).
That is vital talk. This man is not playing with the occasion. He says in effect: All great questions turn upon the condition of the heart: these are not circumstances in which men may be wordy, opinionative, justifying themselves by long-continued arguments that have nothing in them of really sound sense: the heart must be prepared. "As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he." He may never tell what is in his heart. The heart has wondrous power of self-involution and impenetrable secrecy: it looks out of the eyes, yet no man may see it; it observes, but is not observed; it whispers to itself in a tone so low that no one else can hear it; it dreams, it invents, it creates little heavens for its own enjoyment; it reconstructs the universe in imagination that it may luxuriate in it, and even in silence it may be holding festival, and when nothing seems to be going on the heart may be holding high revel. A marvellous, mysterious, impenetrable thing is that awful human heart! Zophar took his stand upon these convictions, and said, "If thou prepare thine heart," and then he adds—the prepared heart will have an effect upon the hands—"and stretch out thine hands toward him"—make even a mute appeal. In Oriental lands the outstretched hands were a sign of prayer; though not one word was spoken, yet the opened palms meant an appeal, the uplifted hands meant human need of divine help. A very graphic image; a most suggestive attitude. What have we in this double exercise—a heart prepared, hands stretched out? Zophar says, If thou canst assume these two positions, certain consequences will follow, and none can prevent their issue.
"If iniquity be in thine hand, put it far away" (Job 11:14).
Zophar insists upon both hands being open. He will not have one hand outstretched towards heaven, and the other doubled in miserlike grip upon some idolised sin; he will have both hands up, both hands open, all the fingers spread out, so that no jugglery shall be able to conceal even the shadow of a sin. Zophar was in very deed a practical preacher. He did not seek to please his audience, but to profit those who listened. He would speak directly, pithily, clearly, vitally. There was no escaping that man; he burned with earnestness. But Job might assume the attitude of a man whose heart was prepared, and whose hands were ready to receive blessing, and whose hand was not concealing iniquity, and yet he might have left his little idols all at home. Zophar knew that, and therefore he went home with Job and said—"Let not wickedness dwell in thy tabernacles:" clean out the corners: sweep out the recesses: tear out every secret thing: turn all upside down. What wonder if some of the commentators have disliked this young speaker—yellow-haired, radiant man, flaming prophet of the soul? What age could stand such preaching as Zophar's? There is nothing pleasant in it. It is wholly destitute of anecdote. It is all direct appeal. Zophar never takes his eyes from Job; he leaves Job under no false impression as to his purpose, and the meaning of that one solemn interview.
Having complied with all these conditions, what is the issue according to Zophar?
"For then shalt thou lift up thy face without spot; yea, thou shalt be stedfast, and shalt not fear" (Job 11:15).
And by no other process could that consequence be realised. It is in vain to daub the wall with untempered mortar; it is worse than vain to call, Peace, peace; when there is no peace. The only way to get rid of fear is by the consolidation and continual increase of faith; where such increase takes place, love concurrently grows, and perfect love casteth out fear. Observe the attitude of the good man: his face is lifted up, without spot, without stain, without blush, without one sign of servility; he has become right with God, and, therefore, he lifts up his face, without sign of trepidation or apprehension or misgiving. A wonderful blessedness this to be without fear! Who has attained that wealth? Who does not look down as if he were afraid to look up, as if the heavens might burn him with scorching fire did he but turn an eye to their exceeding height? Who is altogether without fear? Find in fear a sign of inferiority, conscious weakness, or conscious sin; or sign of inadequate or failing physical constitution. Do not regard all fear as meaning that God is judge, and that his whole look towards the life is a look of condemnation. Nothing of the kind. Some men are, born children of fear. They are not to be blamed; the fear is constitutional; is to be explained by physical causes and influences: wherever such a man is to be found he is to be cheered, encouraged, lovingly stimulated; he is to be told that the body is fighting against the mind, and he is to be called upon to see that the mind goes forth to the battle conscious that it can put down the body even in its most passionate clamour. Without such discrimination great harm will be done. Men who are constitutionally dull, fearful, apprehensive will be discouraged, and will turn away from the sanctuary, and will seek at forbidden altars the recruital and renerving of their depressed system. On the other hand, where the fear is really spiritual, and comes out of conscious sin, let there be no mistake about the matter; then Zophar must talk; his words must be like sharp swords, and his appeals must be accentuated as if with flame. Let every man judge himself.
About the misery that is historical, what has Zophar to say? He makes a beautiful reference. He becomes a poet when he touches the days of vanished grief—
"Because thou shalt forget thy misery, and remember it as waters that pass away" (Job 11:16).
Is it not true that there is something in us which enables us soon to forget misery? One fair disclosure of sunlight makes us forget all the darkness of the past. Who can remember Night when he stands amid the whitening and glorious Morning? The two things cannot be present together in the memory. Wherever there is true light there is no darkness. "God is light, and in him is no darkness at all." Walk as children of the light, walk in God; and as for the night of misery, we may have it recorded for the sake of our chastening in times of high prosperity, but as an active, energetic, and hindering influence it is forgotten, and has no more any power against us. But do not men delight to recall the days of misery? Is it not a peculiarity of human nature that we like to tell what sorrows we have had, to enumerate them in painful detail, as if there were a kind of joy in their very recollection and re-statement? If we were right with God we should talk much about mercies, deliverances, happy providences, times of sunlight, days of festival, hours of reunion, and should have no memory for miseries that afflicted us long ago. Let us grow towards thankfulness, appreciation; and there is only one way of growing towards these high realisations, and that is by the way described by Zophar—a preparation of the heart, an outstretching of the hands, a putting away of iniquity from the palms, and a cleansing of the tabernacle of all wickedness.
Then he tells Job about the future:
"And thine age shall be clearer than the noonday; thou shalt shine forth, thou shalt be as the morning" (Job 11:17).
In other words, Thou shalt never be an old man: however many thy years, thy lightness of heart, thy buoyancy of spirit, thy conscious union with God, will make thee forget the burden of the days, and thou shalt be young for ever: at eventide there shall be ample light. "And thou shalt be secure, because there is hope; yea, thou shalt dig about thee, and thou shalt take thy rest in safety. Also thou shalt lie down, and none shall make thee afraid; yea, many shall make suit unto thee" (Job 11:18-19). Why, this was the gospel before the time! What has Paul ever said more than this? In kindred eloquence he has told us that all things are ours, that all triumphs over life, death, principalities, powers, things present, things to come; but in no degree does he excel the lofty altitude which was attained by Zophar the Naamathite. But all this preaching on the part of Zophar and of Paul puts a tremendous responsibility upon us. What if we who profess the religion of Jesus Christ are as fear-driven as the men who hold the cross of Christ in contempt? What if we, who profess to be seeking a country out of sight, are in reality anxious about the country that now is and about building upon foundations in the dust? What if we who appear to be sandalled for a journey are willing to tarry at any wayside inn that will give us meat and drink free of cost? What if we perpetrate the irony of attempting to look to heaven whilst in reality we are looking all the time at the earth? If these consequences are to flow from this spiritual condition, and if we have not realised in some degree these effects, do we not cause a tremendous suspicion to rest upon the reality of our Christian profession?
Now all the men have spoken; we are now, therefore, in a position to look at the case as if it were in some measure complete. Job has spoken, and spoken much; Eliphaz, and Bildad, and Zophar have spoken; but they are up to this point every one of them in the dark. As to the reality of the case with which they are dealing, they know nothing. The case has never been explained to Job; the three comforters know nothing about the reality of the conditions which they are attempting to discuss: they are all inflamed with some measure of unfriendliness to Job, because they believe that he has sinned in secret, and is therefore reaping the black harvest of the seed which he has sown. And what do we at any time understand about the reality of our own condition? We speak of our trials: who can account for their origin? Who knows what God may have said to the enemy of souls about us? Who can tell what scheme, proposed in hell and for the moment sanctioned in heaven, is taking effect in relation to our faith and our integrity? The Lord said unto Satan: Job will withstand thee; thou canst not destroy his faith: all will be well in the long run. The devil said: I will break him up; I can shatter that man: take away from him his wealth, his family, and all his happy circumstances,—break up the environment—and he will curse thee to thy face. The Lord said—No: life is not a question of environment in its largest aspects; take away everything he has, but leave his life, and Job will conquer. About this Job knew nothing, the three friends knew nothing; the great controversy was proceeding whilst these men were all in ignorance as to its origin and purpose. The same holds good in regard to ourselves. We understand nothing. We can explain nothing. We ought to throw ourselves back upon history, and ask to be instructed and sobered by the monitions of the past. This view we might take: Job was being tried without Job knowing why; it may be that we are being tried also, that by the constancy of our faith we may disappoint the devil, and inflict upon him the humiliation of a noble and consistent contradiction. Take that view of your circumstances; take that view of your trials. The Lord has laid great responsibilities upon us, and he has said of us, My people will yet conquer; they may be tempted and sorely tried and impoverished; they may be orphaned and desolated and left without friends, but at the last they will stand up a conquering host. Blessed be God, he seems even now, by some mysterious exercise of his grace, to have faith in us: he will not believe the devil; he will say of us, They will yet conquer. This is the true method of education. Stimulate your scholars; place faith in them; say to the boy when he goes forth to the day's battle: You will conquer, you will win, you will come back at night full of joy; hold up your head, and you will return like a hero, bringing with you the spoils of war. Never send the child out under a cold cloud, under a threat, or under the feeling that you expect to be disappointed; rather cheer him with the thought that you expect him to come back with his shield—or on it; not a wound in his back; if slain, slain in the front, facing the foe. It would seem as if God were now so trying us, and looking upon us, and as if he had pledged his word that at the last the soul of his Son shall be satisfied.
It is as high as heaven; what canst thou do? deeper than hell; what canst thou know?"Handfuls of Purpose"
For All Gleaners
"It is as high as heaven; what canst thou do?"—Job 11:8
As a matter of fact, there is a heaven which our poor hands cannot touch.—Do we deny the existence of that lofty space, simply because we cannot touch it? Do we say, Our eyes may be deceiving us, and after all there is no such loftiness? It is all optical illusion or delusion?—As in nature so it ought to be in higher truth and graces; there are some things to be seen from afar, others to be handled and directly enjoyed, and others again which partake of the nature of dream and symbol and apocalypse.—We must make something like a reasonable distribution of the circumstances and phenomena which make up our life.—There are some things about which we may talk almost exhaustively; everything about them is so explicit and direct: but when we come upon those higher things which can only be seen at an infinite distance, we must make allowance for our inability, and not blame God or cast discredit upon his method of training the world.—If a man cannot reach what God has made, is it likely that he can comprehend all that God is? Is not the worker always greater than his work? Whoever made the stars may be rationally supposed to be greater than the stars which he has made, and, being greater, is by so much more difficult of comprehension, so difficult, indeed, as to rise to the point of absolute impossibility in our present state.—We do not venture to attempt an interpretation of everything that is in ourselves; our own souls are often too profound for our vision; our motives are so complicated and intermixed that it is impossible for us to separate the one action from the other, and to say, This is good, and, That is bad, in exact terms.—All height should teach us to aspire; all width created by God, such as the great sea or the greater firmament, should lead us out in the direction of enlargement and comprehensiveness of mind; all. the symbols of nature should have a corresponding effect upon our spiritual capacity and training.—We must not be afraid to look nature fully and lovingly in the face; she is a great parable which the heart alone can often read; she does not set little and arbitrary boundaries to our position and progress, but rather is full of encouragement to us to advance and conquer.—Still, as in nature we know just where to stop, so it should be in spiritual inquest and study: we come to brinks, and must take care not to fall over: we behold lofty eminences, and must know that they were meant to be looked at and not to be trodden under foot: to make a wise use of nature in this way is to encourage and strengthen all that is best in our spiritual being.—Has any man seen all the creation of God? Has any man any conscious relation to any other world than the earth in which he was born? Is it possible for any man to see through the darkness of midnight, when all the light of heaven has been withdrawn?—If, then, there are such limits And obstructions, difficulties and impossibilities, in things which are termed natural, is it at all an irrational conception there should be things in even greater abundance in the purely spiritual realm, which mock us and sometimes defy us, and which all the while beckon and lure us with hopefulness that we may yet see further kingdoms and enjoy the larger liberties of life?—Blessed is he who knows where to stop.—Because there is a stopping-place in all thought, it does not follow that there is no line of thought to be entered upon.—When we know where to stop, we may also know that the point is but intermediate, not final; that we rest there but for a moment, and that by-and-by we shall take up the series, and continue it into the very day of heaven itself.