And there was a day when his sons and his daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother's house:…
The lessons on which we have been dwelling, and on which Job had doubtless deeply meditated in the leisure of his prosperous days, were now to receive the illustration of actual experience. A series of waves breaks in upon his peaceful home and heart, and, in the space of a few short hours, turns the smiling scene into utter desolation. We may notice in the story the following points: the calamities of Job, and their first effect upon his mind.
I. THE CALAMITIES. Their suddenness and unexpectedness. A bright holiday was selected by Providence for the discharge of those torrents of woe. The young people were making merry in their eldest brother's house - perhaps on his birthday - when the bolt out of the blue, without a moment's warning, struck. The imagination is powerfully affected by such contrasts. We do not pity ourselves or others so deeply when we have had time to prepare for the storm. The shock of the blow is broken when it finds us forewarned and forearmed. Men must all suffer at some time, and at some time must die; but the terror of the unlooked-for sorrow is as great as the joy of the unlooked-for blessing. But since there is a truth in the saying that "the unexpected always happens," how important to secure that only preparation for it which is within our power - a mind like Job's, fixed in principle, because fixed on God!
II. THERE WAS GRADATION IN THESE TROUBLES. They began in the inferior elements of life, and quickly rose to their climax in the superior. There was first the loss of property, in three distinct blows. First the oxen and the asses, then the sheep, and then the camels, were destroyed; and the whole of the herdsmen successively swept away. After the first loss, the instinct of Job would doubtless be to say, "Thank God for what is left;" and the same after the second; but the third cuts off these reflections, and strikes home the dreary conviction, "I am a ruined man!" Who can know but those who have suffered it what it is to lose a third or two-thirds of their worldly goods - much more to lose one's all? Shakespeare truly says that "'tis tenfold bitterer to lose than 'tis great at first to acquire." Still, a noble and loving soul, accustomed to find in affection life's choicest boon, will be consoled by the thought," My family is left me; and their redoubled tenderness and sympathy, and cares and hopes for them, will still make life worth living." But even this sentiment, if it rose in the mind of the ruined man, is blighted in the bud by the terrible news that his sons and daughters have all perished by a sudden and violent death. Thus did some hidden wrath seem to exhaust its vials of concentrated fury on his devoted head; and he who had basked so long in the sunshine is plunged into the darkness, without apparently a single beam of comfort or of hope from without. Nay, more; that his children should have been cut off in the blossom of their sins, in the very height of their mirth, hurried away without time for further expiation or prayer, seemed, alter all the father's earnest piety, as if Heaven had abandoned and doomed him.
III. We may notice, too, THE VARIETY OF THE SOURCES OF THESE AFFLICTIONS, The first came from the hand of men, from robbers, from men of violence and deceit. The second fell from heaven, in the form of devouring fire. The third, again, was a human outrage; and the fourth and most dreadful again from the tempestuous violence of heaven. For a just man to be the prey of injustice, to know that bad men gain at the expense of his loss, is a bitter experience; but to see mysterious, superhuman power, as it were, in alliance and compact with the wicked, is an awful aggravation.
IV. But WHAT IS THE EFFECT ON THE SUFFERER'S MIND? A glorious halo indeed surrounds him in this awful moment. Now is the time to see what there is in goodness, what is the real nature of faith; now or never the accuser must be abashed, and faint hearts must take courage, and God must be glorified. We learn from Job's behaviour that a true life in God is destined to triumph over all outward change and loss, over darkness, mystery, and death.
1. Faith. He believes in God. Not for a moment is his faith shaken. And his first instinct is to throw himself upon his God. He falls upon "the world's great altar-stairs which slope through darkness up to God." "Behold, he prays," and Satan already trembles for his wager. Oh, let us ever bend, reed-like, beneath the storm of Heaven-sent trial; not be broken like the rigid oak! He who can say from the heart, like the poor father in the Gospels (Mark 9:24), "Lord, I believe," shall presently find the floods abating, and a great calm around him.
2. Resignation. Our will has nothing to do with the supreme turns and crises of being. We did not come into this world, we ought not to attempt to go out of it, by an act of our own. We must be resigned to live or to die. A supreme will determines our coming and our going, our entrance and our exit, in this short scene of life. We did not determine the external condition in which we should be born. We all came naked into the world, and shall pass away taking nothing with us. Our bodily composition is earthy, and it must crumble back to earth. To her, the all-receiving mother of human-kind, we must each return. The deep sense of these relations is fitted to impress the habit of resignation. And, on the other hand, the transitoriness and weakness of our earthly estate should throw us upon the great spiritual realities. Resignation is not religious, self-renunciation is not complete, until we learn not only to give up earth and earthly will, but to cast ourselves on the bosom of the Eternal. He gives and he takes away the things that are no part of us, but only that he may hold ourselves, our souls, to him for ever.
3. Thanksgiving. What! thanks to God when he takes, as well as when he gives? Is this natural? is this possible? All is natural, is possible, to faith. For faith rests not upon what God does at this or that moment, but upon what he ever is. His action varies; in himself there is no variableness, nor shadow of a turning. Joy and sorrow, light and darkness, every possible phase of human experience, - these are the language of God to the soul. His meaning is one through all tones of his voice. Blessed, then, be the Name, not of the bestowing, health and joy imparting Father of light, Giver of every good and perfect gift; but blessed be the Name of the Eternal, true to himself in all his purposes, true to his children in all his dealings with them for their good.
"Blessed be the hand that gives,
Still blessed when it takes." Oh that these songs, e profundis and e tenebris - "from the depth" and "the darkness" - might be heard more clearly, more unfalteringly, in all our public devotions as well as in all our private prayers! This offering of self to God in trust, submission, thanksgiving, is a" reasonable sacrifice." And as its savour ascends to heaven, it brings its peaceful answer back to the heart. The twenty-second verse reminds us by contrast, of the danger of sinning against God by reproaches and murmurs in our sorrow. "Job sinned not, and gave no offence to God," as the words may, perhaps, be better rendered. And after dwelling so much upon that temper which pleases our heavenly Father, let us enforce the lesson by reflecting on what we are so ready to forget - that he is justly displeased by indulgence in doubts of his existence or goodness, rebellion against the course of his providence, and the refusal of praise to his holy Name. - J.
Parallel VersesKJV: And there was a day when his sons and his daughters were eating and drinking wine in their eldest brother's house: