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…
The scene opens in all brightness, and the hero of this sacred poem stands before us bathed in the sunshine of earthly prosperity, and, better, crowned with the favour of God - a truly enviable man. We have in these few lines give, in brief, suggestive touches -
I. A PICTURE OF COMPLETE HAPPINESS. There are internal and external elements of earthly bliss; and neither must be absent if that bliss is to be full and complete. First in importance is the internal element - the kingdom el God within the man. Yet a starved or stinted virtue, struggling with poverty and adversity, is a sight to kindle pity as well as admiration. Our moral sense is only thoroughly satisfied when we see goodness furnished with sufficiency of this world's means. The moral energies are cramped by extreme misery; they find in competence a stage upon which they can move with ease and grace, and put forth all their powers in harmonious development. The great master, Aristotle, taught that the secret of happiness lay in the rational and virtuous activity of the soul in the whole of its life. But he also insisted that a sufficient provision of external goods was essential to complete happiness, just as the equipping of the Greek chorus was necessary for the representation of a drama. Yet the inferiority of the external elements of happiness to the internal is indicated, not only by their coming second in the description of the sacred poet, but by the swift tragic sequel, the darkening of the scene, the sudden breaking up of house and home and fortune of the prosperous man. And here we are reminded of the saying of another illustrious Greek, Solon: "Call no man happy till the day of his death." The fate of Croesus, whose name was a synonym for worldly luck in the ancient Greek world, pointed the moral of that saying, according to the charming story of Herodotus, as Job's vicissitudes give point to it here. This world passeth; all that is external to us is liable to loss, change, uncertainty. Only the "sweet and virtuous soul, like seasoned timber, never gives." The ruins of a falling world leave the true man unshaken. Doing the will of God, united to him by conscious obedience and trust, he abides for ever. Thus, in the concise emphatic designation of Job's character, in the very first verse of the poem, its key-note is struck.
II. LINEAMENTS OF CHARACTER. Four words, like a few expressive touches from a master's pencil, place before us the character of the patriarch.
1. "That man was perfect." That is, he was sound (integer vitae, as the Roman poet says) in heart and life, blameless in the ordinary sense in which we use that word, free from glaring vice or gross inconsistency. We must bear in mind that general epithets like these, denoting attributes of human character, are derived from our experience of external objects. They are, therefore, figurative expressions, not to be used in an exact mathematical sense, which, of course, is inapplicable to such an object as human character. Perfect, as a sound animal is said to be; without blemish, like a snowy, sacrificial lamb; spotless, like a "garnered fruit," without "pitted speck." There are two aspects of perfection - the negative and the positive. Negative perfection is more the Old Testament view. It is when the character presents a blank on the side of those gross vices, those sins against honour and truth and every Divine and social bend, which incur the hatred or man and the displeasure of Heaven. The New Testament view brings out the positive side of "perfection." It is not only the life void of offence, but it is the completeness of the Christian man in those heavenly graces, that bright resplendent adornment of the sanctified character, which in the sight of God is of great price. But there are conditions of life in which there is comparatively little scope for the development o! character widely on the positive side. There is but a small circle of duties, employments, amusements, relations, in such circumstances as in the primeval and pastoral simplicity of Job. How different from this highly developed, widely and variously interesting modern life of ours! Where more is given, more will be required. But the example of Job consists in the simplicity and integrity with which he moved about in the sphere of his little sovereignty, and, with every facility for indulging passion, for infringing right, for encroaching on the happiness of others, kept himself white as the lily, nobly free from blame. Not that he was that insipidity of character, a merely correct man. Intense selfishness is often found in your correct men. We see from glimpses presently given us in the course of the poem that he was an actively good man. Here we may read the exquisite descriptions of his past life in ch. 29. and 31., forced from him in his self-defence. We look upon the picture of a man who is the pillar of his community, a light, a comfort,, a joy to dependents and equals alike. It is a picture which the thousands of our countrymen who are in the enjoyment of fortune, position, education, and influence in their respective neighbourhoods, may be invited to contemplate and to imitate. The Divine pleasures and the noble reward of a right use of wealth and position, form for multitudes of the great a field but little explored. Amidst the serious warnings of Scripture and of experience against the dangers of prosperity, let the pure example of Job stand out to remind the prosperous that they may make their means a help instead of a hindrance to the kingdom of heaven; may enslave the unrighteous mammon; in gaining much of this world, need not necessarily lose their souls!
2. He was upright. The idea is that of a right line. And the opposite image is conveyed by the word "froward," or "crooked," from the curved, deviating line. As the country-people say of an honest man," He acts straight," and as our fine old English word gives it, "straightforward." There is a certain mathematics of conduct. Never to depart from truth, even in jest; not to extenuate, nor to exaggerate, nor to be partial in our statements; not to add to nor take from facts; to "tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth;" to abstain from flattery on the one hand, and slanderous perversion on the other; to regard one's word as one's bond; to think and speak with others in that candour, that clearest light in which we ever commune with ourselves; to hate semblances and dissemblances, to get rid of duplicities and confusions; in all relations, to self, to God, to others, to be one and the same man; to avoid turnings and twistings in our route; to go straight to our ends, like an arrow to its mark; - this is the spirit, this is the temper, of the" upright" man. His character resembles the fine-drawn lines of a true work of art; while the "froward" man reminds us of the ill-drawn design, whose deformity no amount of overlaying and ornament can disguise.
3. God-fearing. This and the following epithet complete the representation of the two former. No man is "perfect" without being a fearer of God; none upright without departing from evil. Religion takes its rise in man's feeling of awe towards the vast unseen Power and Cause revealed through things seen. His conscience, by its exhortations, speaks to him of the righteousness of the unseen eternal Cause. All his experience inward and outward impresses upon him the sense of his absolute dependence. Obedience, active and passive, to the Eternal Will is the primary law revealed in the heart of man amidst Sinai-like thunders, over all the world, and in all times. Feelings like these constitute man's earliest and universal religion; Scripture designates them by this comprehensive expression, "the fear of God, the fear of the Eternal." It is no slavish feeling, if man be true to himself. It is not a blind terror, not a Panic inspiration. It is fear chastened and elevated by intelligence, by spiritual fellowship; it is unbounded respect, immeasurable reverence; it is ever on the way to become perfect love. The result of this genuine religion upon the character is to make us view all things in their relation to the unseen and the eternal. Thus life is dignified, lifted out of meanness, receives a certain significance and purport in its smallest details. Without religion we exist as animals, we do not live as men. The busiest career, the loudest reputation, the most splendid worldly success - what sense, what meaning, is there in it without the principle in the heart which consciously binds it to the unseen? "'Tis a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, but meaning nothing."
4. "Eschewed evil." Or, a man who departed from evil. This was the habit of his life. It completes what is given in the second trait. His rectitude, leading him in a direct line of conduct, delivers him from the bypaths of deceit, of transgression, the ways of darkness and of shame. Here, then, in these four words we have suggested the idea of complete piety, the picture of a constant and a noble life, standing "four-square to all the winds that blow." We see a spotless character, attended by a fair fame in the world; the secret foundation on which the moral structure rests is revealed to us, in a habit of principle, a heart full of the fear of God. We look upon the patriarch, moving in the pure air and the holy sunlight of Heaven's favour, blessed with the good will of men, and with all those hopes of the future which a past happiness inspires, little dreaming that his skies are so soon to be darkened, and the foundations of his earthly joy to be so violently shaken.
III. FEATURES OF EXTERNAL PROSPERITY. These, too, are briefly and suggestively sketched, and need not be dwelt upon at length. All the elements of a high prosperity and great position in that simple state of life are present.
1. His family. He had ten children, the sons more than twice as numerous as the daughters. Men felt in those times that a large family was a great blessing, one of the visible marks of Heaven's favour. Sons especially were a new source of wealth and importance to the household. Parents in our day are perhaps seldom in the habit of thanking God for large families. They are too ready to groan beneath the care, rather than to cheerfully admit the reality of the blessing. Yet how constantly do we see proofs of the happiness of large families, even in poverty! A rightly ordered household is the Divinest of schools. Character is so variously developed and in so many ways tried and educated in them. In the variety of this little world there is a fine preparation going on for activity and for endurance in the greater world. On the whole, there can be no question that large families are a great source, not only of happiness, but of riches of every kind. And the truth needs to be insisted on from time to time, when we hear the matter spoken of in terms of disparagement or pity. The full quiver is no object of pity in any time when men are obeying the laws of God in their social life. It is the solitary, and those who are doomed to lead a too self-centred existence, who need our pity.
2. His property. It consisted, we are told, in ample herds of cattle - sheep, camels, oxen, asses, and in a proportionate number of servants. All man's wealth is derived from the earth and its products in plants and animals. And it is a good thing to be reminded of this. We whose wealth is represented by mere symbols and figures for the most part have not the sense of our dependence brought home to us so vividly as he who leads the simple pastoral life of Job. There is health and blessing in the calling of the husbandman and the shepherd, living so near to Mother Earth, constantly reminded of their dependence upon her, of their power by diligence to extract comfort from her bosom. We all were once tillers and herdsmen and hunters; these are man's primeval occupations, and he must return to them again and again if he is to continue to prosper. Let us take the lesson that all sources of profit which are connected with the improvement of the earth are the healthiest that we can draw upon. To develop the earth and the mind of man - natural and spiritual cultivation - these are noble works and worthy pursuits. Let the emigration of the young and vigorous into the vast untilled tracts of the world be encouraged. There let them wed toil with nature, and build up scenes of comfort and happiness like that in which the patriarch dwelt.
IV. PIETY AMIDST THE TEMPTATIONS OF PROSPERITY. It was an ancient saying that a good man struggling with adversity was a sight for the gods. But how much more so a good man struggling with prosperity. For while adversity menaces our physical well-being, not less does prosperity endanger our spiritual health. It does not openly attack, it softens, it relaxes, it undermines. For ten men who can bear poverty is there one who can bear riches? What lovely spiritual blossoms spring out of the scant soil of outward misery, like the prisoner's flower between the stones of his dungeon! What moral emaciation, what leanness of soul, may attend the full purse, cower in the splendid mansion, lurk beneath the fine raiment of the worldly great! Even with true men, who are not to be easily overcome by outward temptations, it holds good, and they will own, in the beautiful words of Milton, that riches "slacken Virtue and abate her edge." We are not, indeed, to infer, because so much is said in the Gospel on the dangers of riches to the soul, that there are no dangers in poverty. But the truth is that the dangers of riches are more subtle, less obvious, being associated with pleasure, not with pain. Poverty stings, riches lull the soul. Misery may pervert the conscience; but luxury seems to put it to sleep. Our life is a struggle of the outward with the inward. The outward, in one form or other, threatens to get the better of us. On this great contest and agony the real interest of life, all its tragedy and poetry, depend. And if it kindles admiration, enthusiasm, awakens the sense of the sublime to see the victory of the soul over adversity, poverty, contempt, should it not equally delight our best feeling to see the victory of the soul over riches and prosperity? In the case of many, take away their surroundings, and they are nothing. The picture is worthless apart from the frame. Others are great in any circumstances. They do not make the man. It is the man who makes them interesting. They may change, they may be reversed; the man remains the same. It is such a moral hero of the tranquil scenes of peace that we are to contemplate in Job. His piety is well brought out in the contrast between the thoughtlessness of his children and his own seriousness (vers. 4, 5). They, in the heyday of youth and health and spirits, were wont on holidays or birthdays to meet and hold high festival in one another's houses. They give the type of the thoughtless cultivators of pleasure. Nor is it hinted that there was anything vicious in their pleasures. They loved the joyous pastimes of their season of life, and they took pleasure in one another's company - that was all. No hint is given that in the subsequent calamity they fell victims to the judgment of God upon their sins. They pass, with this brief mention, out of sight, and all the interest centres upon Job. What he felt and knew was that pleasure, however innocent, dulls, like riches, the soul towards God. Young people have been seen to remove the family Bible from its place in making preparations for a dance, as if conscious that there was something in the tree indulgence of the instincts of pleasure inconsistent with the presence of the solemn reminders of religion. But pleasure has already travelled beyond the limits of moderation, and entered the region of lawlessness, licence, and excess, when there can be a disposition to ignore, even for a moment, the holy influences of religion, the presence of God. In contrast, then, to the gay abandonment to mirth, the thoughtless devotion to the pleasures of the hour on the part of his children, we see in Job a mind which no distraction could divert from the constant sense of his relation to his God. A kindly father, he did not interfere to spoil his children's natural and innocent festivities on these special occasions of joy; but his thought followed them, with upliftings of the heart, and prayers for their preservation from those evils which may arise in the very midst of the scenes of highest social enjoyment, like serpents from a bed of flowers. Still, we need not assume excess or evil on the part of Job's children; the language merely suggests the anxiety of his mind lest such should be. It may be that the fear of God had entered their hearts too, and, restraining their enjoyment within due bounds, and inspiring thankfulness, allowed their festivals to be crowned with the favour of Heaven. One of our famed English writers, describing the scene at an old French peasant's house, when, after the labours of the day, before retiring to rest, the young people of the household joined in a cheerful dance, says he noticed some slight gesture, some uplifting of the eyes or hands, at a particular point, - "in a word, I thought I saw religion mingling with the dance!" A beautiful hint, for those who are perplexed with the problem how to unite religion with relaxation, to satisfy the instinct for amusement consistently with piety. There is no solution to be found for the problem except in the cheerful and loyal surrender of the heart to God, and the intelligent worship of him in all our activities, all our pleasures. It is a narrow or a spurious conception of religion which shuts us out from any genuine pleasures. The habitual recognition of our Creator in the use of this sensitive organization of body and mind which is his gift is the means of enhancing and at the same time hallowing every healthy pleasure of the body and the soul. One of the "fruits of the Spirit," one of the graces of the Christian life, one of the results of true piety, is "temperance," "moderation," or "self-control." We see this in Job. And we see the genuineness of his piety amidst prosperity in the anxiety he feels lest his children should have transgressed against this law of conduct (ver. 5). "It may be," he said, "that my sons have sinned, and said farewell to God - abandoned or forgotten him in their hearts." The next point is - piety manifested in ritual. Ritual, or cultus, has an important place in the history and development of religion. It is the outward presentation of religion, as symbolic of an inward reality. As cleanliness and neatness of person, propriety and gentleness of manners, have a certain value as an index of the inner man, so with the ritual and symbolic side of religion. It is a kind of language, and has the only value that language can have - that of meaning something. When it no longer has a meaning, it must pass away and be replaced by a more vital mode of expression. For both language and ritual are the changing element in religion; the inward and spiritual is the abiding and eternal. Now, we are here carried back to a time when the outward expression of piety was different and more elaborate than with us. Sacrifices of various kinds offered a most significant, powerful, varied medium of communication of the soul's penitences, devotions, aspirations to God. Here we have the ritual of penitence - the trespass offering. It is the devout longing for reconciliation to God, oneness with God, that is expressed, following on the sense of a rupture, or possible rupture, through carelessness or transgression of the soul's true relations to him. An account of such offerings under the Law of Moses will be found in Leviticus 4; Leviticus 6:17-23; Leviticus 7:1-10. And Job, rising early after each of these festivals, was wont to send for his children individually, that they might be present at the solemn sacrifice, and thus symbolically receive purification and absolution from the stain of guilt. Thus there rises before us, in this concluding trait of the character of Job, the picture of one who sought first the kingdom of God, and to be right with him - an example of paternal love and piety; of one who identified, like Joshua 24:15, his household with himself in the service of the Eternal. By the pleasing art of the sacred poet, our interest, our sympathy, is already powerfully drawn towards the hero of his story. The curtain falls on this bright life-scene as if with the good wishes and prayers of all spectators. May the shadow of Job never grow less! May his path be as the shining light, increasing to the perfect day! May he continue blessing and blessed in the bosom of his family and household, advance to "old age with honour, troops of friends," and come to his end in his season, as a shock of corn, fully ripe! - J.
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.