Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan came also among them.…
I. EVERY MAN'S LIFE IS AN OBJECT OF INTEREST IN HEAVEN. This is a sublime thought, powerfully suggested by the present passage, and full of comfort for every man who trusts in the goodness of God. "Every man's life a plan of God's" (see the powerful sermon of Dr. Bushnell on this subject). Even of men who do not consciously know God or own his providence, this is true. Their career is controlled by a mysterious direction; their mistakes or misdeeds overruled for good. Of Cyrus, for example, it is said, "I have called thee by thy name: I have surnamed thee, though thou hast not known me" (Isaiah 45:4).
II. BUT IN HOW PECULIARLY HAPPY A SENSE IS THIS TRUE OF EVERY GOOD MAN'S LIFE! His way is often entangled, perplexed, darkened to himself; but never so to God. From the bright scene of heavenly light and contemplation, where the map of every life is spread open to view, we are soon to plunge into gloom and sorrow by the side of the afflicted servant of God. But let us carry the memory of this glimpse of heaven through all the windings of the maze of grief which soon we are to tread in fancy, and may -no day follow in actual experience. Already let us take the lesson home - that the way of God's children is not hidden, their cause not passed over, by the Most High. Their steps are ordered by him. In their blindness they will be led by paths they have not known. They may seem to themselves exiled from joy, banished from light and love; but he will yet make darkness light before them, and crooked ways straight, and will never forsake them. For in the life of flower and bird even, much more in the life of man, there is a plan of God.
III. EVERY MAN'S LIFE THE OBJECT OF OPPOSING INFLUENCES: of good and evil, pleasure and pain, happiness and misery, heaven and hell. Nowhere is this grand secret of the mechanism of our being more distinctly disclosed than in this book. The presence of an evil influence, ever curious and busy about our life, is distinctly acknowledged; its origin left in mystery. We must recognize this dualism of influence on man's life without attempting to solve it. After all that has been thought and said on the subject, we can only acknowledge that it is a fundamental condition of our earthly existence. To ignore it, and try to live in some fool's paradise of extreme optimism, is to expose ourselves to disappointment and to danger; or to fall into the other extreme of a gloomy, desponding pessimism is to be unfaithful to that instinctive sense of God's goodness which is deep-seated in the heart. Scripture guides us in a middle course between these extremes - places before us, in equal distinctness, the two poles of thought, the opposing currents of influence; and this makes the practical duty manifest, to abhor the evil and cleave to the good, to fill the heart with reverence and trust for God, and to depart from evil in all its forms.
IV. THE SPIRIT OF ACCUSATION CONCERNED WITH GOOD MEN'S LIVES, This is the great characteristic of the evil spirit spoken of in various parts of Scripture. He is "Satan," that is, "the Adversary," one whose delight is in laying snares for men, seducing them from rectitude, and then slandering and accusing them before God. "The accuser of our brethren, who accuses them before our God day and night" (Revelation 12:10). Here, in the court of heaven, the radiant scene of Divine glory which is brought before our view, while the rest of the retinue of angels, "sons of God," are present to discharge their functions of praise and of service, the evil genius of men comes to enjoy the dark pleasure of detraction and spite. While those bright spirits habitually look on the bright side of things, upon the creation lit up by the smile of God, reflecting everywhere his wisdom and his power, Satan dwells upon the dark side of things - upon that frailty and corruptibility of man, which appears to be the only blemish in the fine picture of God's world. Note the restlessness of this spirit of accusation. To and fro he roams in the earth, seeking rest, but finding none. How true a picture is this of every human heart which has given way to evil, and has thus become a mirror of the dark spirit! How restless are all men who are ill at ease in themselves, because devoid of peace with their God! The hunger for mischief is the counterpart of the hunger for righteousness. They roam about, discontented, mad. dened at the sight of goodness and purity which they have lost; barking, snapping, biting, devouring, like beasts of prey - fastening upon noble reputations and dragging them to the ground, as the panther springs upon the noble stag of the forest. What need have we to be warned against the misery of allowing ourselves to become the servants of so dark a spirit, the agents of such malice! Whenever we find the rust of slander and backbiting gathering too easily on our tongues, whenever we find that the sight of good men's failures affords us more pleasure than that of their success and honour, we have need to look closely into the heart. We must be ill before we can enjoy these diseased pleasures. A soul in health towards God delights to see the reflection of that health in the faces and the lives of others. It is the misery of conscious sin which seeks relief in the sin of others. Whether in good or in evil, we cannot endure to be alone. The fulness of the heart's joy must have expression, and so must the burden of its unpardoned guilt - the one in words of charity to men and praise to God; the other in those of bitterness and blasphemy. But this scene sets before us a man who is to become the object, rather than the subject, of this malignant influence. Job is the victim, not the agent, of Satanic slanders. And it is well to consider here what there is in the constitution of our nature which lays us open to these diabolical attempts.
1. There is a weak side in the nature of every one. The sensuous side of nature presents a constant opening to attack. We can be easily bribed by bodily pleasures and frightened by bodily pains. Our affections too often expose us. We may be fortified on all sides; yet there is some postern door or secret entrance to the seat of will, which our wife, or little child, or besom friend is well acquainted with and has the key of, and can readily, at any hour of day or night, pass through. Our tastes, pursuits, circumstances, variously constitute sources of weakness. Some men appear richer toward God amidst poverty and struggle; with many comfort and competence seem to foster and beautify their piety. In the case of Job, an attack is suddenly made all along the line; he is assailed in all the weak points of humanity. And in this completeness of his trial, with the result, lies a main point of instruction in the book.
2. In the best of men there is a mixture of motives. A man chooses the right from principle - from the fear of God in his heart. But he has promises beforehand to stimulate and encourage his choice, and successes afterwards to confirm it. None long travels on the narrow way without discovering that it is not only the right path, but the wise one; not only the right and the wise path, but the path of happiness, honour, and peace. Therefore, at any given point in a man's course, it may be difficult to determine what is the ruling motive of good within him. Did he begin to be good because he believed beforehand that it would turn out well with him in this world? Does he persevere because he has discovered by experience that godliness is profitable for this life? or is the fear and love of the Eternal and his righteousness the greatest, deepest, secret of his career? Who can answer these questions? Can any observer from outside? Can the man himself answer these questions? No. Trial, judgment, the sifting by the winnowing-fan, the cleansing of the refiner's fire, can alone declare what sort of man he is to himself and to others. By trial the inferior and the superior motives are separated. "Experience worketh knowledge;" and all new knowledge is new power. Blessed, then, the man that endureth affliction. The fine old Greek proverb, in his case, παθήματα μαθήματα, comes true - "to suffer is to learn." Thus the very malignancy of his adversary, by the overruling of supreme wisdom and goodness, turns to his advantage; the calumnious foe becomes the unwilling friend. As the general feels grateful for an assault which has been severe, but in resisting which he has been taught a new lesson in war, so the faithful heart thanks God in the end for the permission of those trials which have called forth to the utmost and corroborated the holy energies within.
3. Every outwardly good deed, every outwardly good life, admits of a twofold explanation, until the real facts be known. This follows from the theory of motives. The most disinterested action, in semblance, may conceivably be referred, by a subtle analysis of motives, to some egotistic and more or less faulty motive. Here we have, in the theory of Satan concerning the piety of Job, an illustration of these laws. And the evil spirit, we may say, is within his right in insisting upon it, until the facts of experience shall refute him. It is trial alone which can, by its clear manifestation, refute the dark insinuations of our spiritual foes. Every man has two sides to his life - an outward and an inward. Does the inward correspond to the outward? Who can judge without proof? What all-silencing proof can there be but facts, stamped by suffering, written in blood and in fire? The Greeks had a saying that the character of a man was not to be known until he was placed in authority (Sophocles, 'Antigone'). Certainly that is one form of trial, through which Job had passed, gaining noble instruction. But it is a form of temptation far more severe to be cast down suddenly from previous influence and wealth, than to be suddenly raised to it. Our instinctive sympathy and pity towards those who have thus suffered teach us that it is so. And yet this is the trial for the chosen of God, for the selected specimens of his grace, the vessels of his holy fashioning. He will rebut and discomfit the slanders of the adversary and of all his followers, who love to scoff at the reality of goodness, to discount and depreciate and deny every human excellence, by subjecting his faithful ones to the last intensity of the furnace, that the truth and eternal reality of his work in the soul may be manifest to the eyes of all, both of the good and the evil.
V. LIFE, THEN, IS DIVINELY DELIVERED TO TRIAL. This is the teaching of this passage; it is the teaching of all Scripture. There is a precise permission from the sovereign will for evil to wreak its malice upon the good man. There is a distinction between the way in which good and evil respectively come upon us from the Divine hand. Good comes immediately, directly, fresh from the heart and love of him who is all goodness. But evil comes indirectly, through the dark and devious channels of evil and hostile wills. In blessing, in joy, God visits us in Person, his sunshine pierces through the windows of the soul unsought. But evil is only a licensed visitor to our dwelling, to our heart. And it is difficult to recognize behind the gloomy shape a controlling hand, a solicitous and loving eye. But it is one of the deep lessons of piety that we have all to learn - to say in affliction, "God permits this," as well as in joy, "God sends this." It may be learnt. In the low-stooping thunderous cloud, in the bursting rain and hail over our heads, we may feel the nearness of God, know his hand to be laid upon our conscience, his voice to be appealing to the inmost sense of our relation to him, which had perhaps slumbered beneath the bright and cloudless blue.
VI. GOD DOES NOT DELIVER LIFE TO DESTRUCTION, THOUGH HE MAY DELIVER IT FOE A TIME TO THE POWER OF EVIL. "He hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation." Jehovah says to Satan, "All that he hath is in thy power; only upon himself put not forth thine hand." Let us fix our attention on this antithesis: what a man has and what a man is. The stoic Epictetus dwelt, in his noble exhortations, on this contrast. There are things he says which are "within us," within our power, within the scope of our choice and control; other things which are "not within our power," over which our will has little or no control. The important matter, then, in self-government, is to be master of this inward sphere of thought, feeling) purpose. Then outward changes can work us no real harm. One who had duly imbibed these lessons said of his persecutors, "They may kill me, but they cannot hurt me.' But the aspect of this truth in the light of the Christian revelation is more winning than the cold and haughty self-reliance of stoicism. He who has given himself up to the love and guidance of a heavenly Father knows that his soul is safe, whatever the disease of his body or the sufferings of his mind. Cast down he may be, destroyed he cannot be, so long as he is held by the hand that sustains the world. "Wherefore let them that suffer in well-doing commit their souls unto him, as unto a faithful Creator."
VII. This passage shows us that THERE IS LIGHT IN HEAVEN WHILE THERE IS DARKNESS UPON EARTH. There is the silver lining behind the cloud of every earthly affliction; for the presence of eternal wisdom and love is there. All was soon to he darkness, dismay, and doubt for the mind of Job; but to him who sees the end from the beginning all was clear and full of meaning. The machinations of the devil will only serve to bring out the fidelity and patience of his chosen servant, who will live to see the "end of the Lord," that he is very pitiful and of tender mercy. Let us lift up our thoughts, in every season of personal or national depression) in every time of discouragement, when wickedness abounds, when the devil seems to be advancing his kingdom and the light of faith is waning, to that eternal, unquenchable light of the wisdom that cannot err, the will that evil never can defeat. Let us never forget that
"Blessing, not cursing, rules above,
And that in it we live and move." J.
Parallel VersesKJV: Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan came also among them.