Then Job answered and said,…
The office of the comforter is a very high and blessed one. One who has the tongue of the learned, and can speak a word in season to him that is weary, may often prevent distress becoming despair; may often strengthen faith and hope, and cheer the mourner with the light of eternal peace. He who has force of conviction, clearness of sight, knowledge of God's love, may render one of the richest services that man can render to his fellow men. In Job's case there was a sorrow that indeed cried aloud for comfort. The pity of the angels must have rested on him, plunged from such a height of mercy into such a gulf of misery. Is there no comforter? When wealth abounded, he had many to felicitate him; are there none now to weep for him, and to uphold his heart? Let us look. There are never wanting hearts that pity the afflictions of men. But it is one thing to pity with silent, on-looking grief; it is another thing to tackle grief itself, and show how right and merciful it is: and for this brave and tender work few are fitted. And so accordingly Job has to complain (Job 6:15-17) that his friends on whom he had relied were like the winter torrents, brawling strongly, flowing bravely when less needed; but drying up in the summer heats and leaving caravans, which hoped to drink of their waters, to perish with thirst. But amidst the bewilderment which marks all his friends, and the general shrinking of those who should have tried to comfort, there are three of his old friends — apparently from what they say themselves, and what Elihu says of them, all men at least as old as Job himself — who strive to console him. Not at the very outset of his calamity, but at a time when Job can say (Job 7:3), "I am made to possess months of vanity"; these three men make an appointment with each other and go together to comfort him. Job himself flouts them, saying, "Miserable comforters are ye all"; doing thereby not quite justice to men whose task was not so easy to accomplish as some of their critics think. I think that great and obvious as their faults were, perhaps they were better comforters to Job than any others would have been. They did not find a solace for him, but they did something better, they helped him to find the true solace for himself. Let us see what there is in the character and utterances Of these men worthy of our remark.
1. They had evidently some of the grandest qualities of a comforter about them. They had a profound sense of Job's calamity. Their whole bearing at the outset is beautiful; when they see him they lift up their voice and weep. They seat themselves beside him on his dunghill, and for a whole week, in grave, respectful silence, they share his sorrow. Everywhere, but especially in sorrow, speech is only silvern, but silence is golden. In great sorrow the room to admit comfort is small, though the comfort needed be very large indeed. Consolation is hardly for early stages of great sorrow, it must be inserted gradually, as the soul gives room to hold it. And when the time comes for direct consolation, it should be line upon line, here a little, there a little. The comfort of the Gospel of providence first; the comfort of the Gospel of salvation second. If they had been but wise enough to hold their peace, they had been almost perfect comforters. They did so for seven days, and showed by doing so they had one great quality of the comforter; they took some proper measure of the trouble they came to soothe.
2. If they had a sense of his calamity they had also another quality of great value in a comforter — they had courage. Amongst Job's numberless friends hardly any but themselves had the courage to face his grief. They had it. Courage is wanted sometimes to forbid the abandonment of despair, to deny the accusations which impatience makes against God. Sometimes, like the great Comforter, you have to begin by convincing of sin, and to lead the afflicted through penitence to consolation.
3. They had also some of the great elements of the creed of consolation. They believed, first of all, that God sent the affliction; and the root of all consolation is there. The sorrow's crown of sorrow is the thought that chance reigns. And wherever we feel God rules, and what has happened came by Divine prescription or permission, we have a seed of consolation most sufficient. In fact, as we shall see hereafter, all Job's grand comfort springs from this. They have a second great article of faith and consolation — their hearts are strongly moored in a sense of the justice of God. In heathen creeds a large place was often assigned to Divine envy and jealousy. And they have also some knowledge of His love, They urge Job to prayer as to something He habitually answers. They urge him to penitence, assuring him that even though his guilt had been so great, yet God would pardon him. They have some of the great convictions requisite to console.Yet they fail in their effort to console; and when you ask why, you see that while they possessed some of the first qualities of comforters, they had others which marred their work.
1. First of all, their creed, good as far as it goes, does not go far enough. There was in it a certain intellectual and moral narrowness. They think of God almost exclusively as a judge — rewarding right, punishing wrong, pardoning the fault He punishes when it is duly repented. But they seem to give God no margin for any other activities. According to them, all He does is reward or punishment. They have not in their view any grand future extending to the other world — in preparation for which, discipline of various kinds may be useful, even where there is no special transgression. They had a short, clear creed — say to the righteous it shall be well with him, say to the wicked it shall be ill with him — and any refinement, such as "whom God loveth He chasteneth," seems to them something that spoils the clearness and cogency of saving truth. These men could believe in a reward to the righteous, in affliction to the wrongdoer, but the doctrine, "Many are the afflictions of the righteous," enfeebled the hopes of the good and destroyed the alarm of the wicked. Accordingly not one of them ever is able to get out of the feeling that Job had been secretly a sinner above all men. We should beware of narrowness, and, although our light is fuller, remember that we make a mistake whenever we imagine that we have mapped out the whole of God and of the plans and working of God. Leave a margin modestly, and assume that God will do many things, the reasons for which are sufficient, but not knowable by ourselves. Assume that we cannot understand much of His ways, and be on your guard against creeds that simplify too much. Man is rather a complicated thing, and the truth of man cannot be reduced to a set of very easy and very broad statements. These comforters failed to remember that man's understanding was not quite equal to account for all God's acts, and they left out of view all the prospective probable results of God's dealings in the idea that the calamity could have no reason excepting some precedent wrong. And they had another fault.
2. They were short of faith in man. It is easy to understand how men should be suspicious. When we feel how much of volcanic energy there is in the evil of our own hearts, we are apt to believe too readily in the evil of others. Faults are common, falls are common, but deliberate hypocrisy is too rare to justify an easy assumption of its existence on slight grounds. If a wavering thought that their friend must have been guilty of great sins, and all his religion hypocrisy, was pardonable, should they have settled down so fixedly and promptly in this belief, and without any evidence, have first surmised and then asserted guilt beyond that of any other? This unbelief in Job is a sin which God subsequently rebukes them for. It is a serious thing to admit to one's heart any unbelief in the essential integrity of another. Keep faith in man if you would comfort man. These men were short of faith in their fellow men, and became, as Job called them, "false witnesses for God," in consequence of being so. Perhaps the week of silence is due to suspense as well as sympathy, to some misgiving about their theory as much as to compassion. But as soon as Job has "cursed his day," and given vent to the murmur which, however natural, was not sinless, then the momentary misgiving vanishes, and they begin their work. Eliphaz, more gently than the rest, with little more than a hint of the direction in which he thinks Job would do wisely to proceed. Bildad follows with utterance full of ungracious candour: "If thy children have sinned against Him, and He have cast them away in their transgression He would restore your prosperity if you prayed." Zophar, who is coarser than either of the rest, roundly tells him that "God exacteth of him less than his iniquity deserves." When Job has declared his innocence, and uttered his longing to stand face to face with God, and reminded them that the prosperity of the wicked was as universally observed as their calamities, they abate no measure of their censure. In every form of innuendo and accusation they impeach him for some great crime. Till at last Eliphaz himself gathers boldness to make specific charges of inhumanity. Poor Job! to be thus battered by accusations; when soothing tenderness was his need and due. Yet I am not sure he is altogether to be pitied. They could not give him comfort, but they drove him to find it for himself. And in finding it for himself he got it more firmly and more richly than he could possibly have found it ready made on their lips. Several things should be remembered.
1. It is well to act the comforter.
2. Love is the great prerequisite for doing so. Sympathy soothes more than any philosophy of sorrow.
3. A narrow interpretation of God's ways of love is a common fault of those who would console.
4. There must be time for consolation to grow, and it may come in a form very different from that in which we expect it.
5. At last God brings all the true-hearted to a comfort exceedingly rich and great.
Parallel VersesKJV: Then Job answered and said,
WEB: Then Job answered,