Now a thing was secretly brought to me, and my ear received a little thereof.…
Here we have the narration of one of those revelations in visions of the night, through which man so frequently learned in the elder time to know the will of the Eternal. Every line of the description is significant and impressive.
I. THE ASSOCIATIONS OF THE NIGHT.
1. It is the season of solitude. In the daytime we have many to keep us company, to encourage us, it may be, in false or idle thoughts, or divert us from those that are serious. Now at last we are alone, and must stand face to face with self, with truth, with God.
2. It is the season of silence. There is no noise, no confusion, drowning the still, small voices which otherwise might be heard.
3. It is the time of darkness. The eye is no longer filled with sights that divert the fancy and unbend the fixity of the mind's direction. Pascal says that the reason why men pursue field sports and other amusements with so much eagerness is that they may fly from themselves, which is a night that none can bear. But the darkness, throwing a veil above the bright outer world, flings the man back upon himself, forces him into the inner chamber of conscience. Happy those who have learned to employ the wakeful hours in self-communion and in communion with God, and who find that "night visions do befriend, while waking dreams are fatal."
II. THE STILNESS OF GOD'S VOICE. This is a thought made very prominent in the description, as in the revelation to Elijah on Horeb - the calmness and gentleness of the voice of the Unseen and the Divine. Eliphaz says the word "stole" upon him, and it was a "gentle sound" his ear received (ver. 12). It was a "whispering voice" (ver. 16), like the susurrus, or rustling of the leaves of a tree in the quiet air of night. For all who willingly listen, the voice of the great Father of spirits is calm, quiet, gentle, though strong and awful. Only upon the stubborn ear and obdurate heart does it peal in the end with thunder and menace.
III. THE EFFECT UPON THE HUMAN HEART OF GOD'S VOICE. (Ver. 14.) It cannot be heard without awe and without terror. One tone of that voice vibrating through the whole consciousness awakens instantly all the sense of our weakness, our ignorance, and our sin. And here we have all the physical symptoms faithfully described which testify to the agitation of the soul in presence of the Unseen. There is a trembling and quivering of the whole frame in every limb. The hair stands on end. A materialistic philosophy, which either denies or ignores man's relation to the Unseen, can never explain away these phenomena. They are involuntary witnesses to the reality of that power which besets us behind and before, which is "closer to us than our breathing, nearer than hands and feet," from which we cannot flee.
IV. THE APPARITION. (Vers. 15, 16.) It is well to note in what vague and awful touches the presence of the Divine is hinted. A spirit passes before the sleeper - it stands still - but its form, its features, cannot be exactly discerned. There is the like vagueness in Moses' vision, and in that of Isaiah in the temple. For no man can look upon the face of God, no man can receive aught but the dimmest and faintest impression of that inexpressible form. These descriptions yield us lessons as public teachers. They remind us that a tone of reserve, a simplicity of description, not overpassing the reverential bounds of Scripture, the suggestion of a vast background of mystery, should accompany all that we venture to speak to men concerning God.
V. THE ORACLE. (Vers. 17-21.) It is a solemn rebuke to that spirit which Eliphaz thought he discerned in his friend - the assumption of innocence and righteousness in the presence of God. "For there is not a just man upon earth, which doeth good and sinneth not" (Ecclesiastes 7:20). Its contents may be summed up m the words of the psalm (Psalm 143:2), "In thy sight shall no man living be justified." Its meaning is echoed in such words as these: "Righteous, O God, art thou in thy judgments" (Jeremiah 12:1); "Let God be true, and every man a liar, as it is written, That thou mightest be justified in thy sayings, and mightest overcome when thou art judged" (Romans 3:4) There is no privilege of question, of criticism, of reproach, or complaint' when man approaches the works of God. His part is to understand and to submit. The right of criticism implies some equality of knowledge; but how can this subsist between the creature and the Creator? "Who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?" (Romans 9:20). Criticism is silenced in the presence of overwhelming superiority. There are a few great works even of human art before which the tongue of cavil and fault-finding is hushed. Who dares to sit in judgment on the sculptures of a Phidias, or the paintings of a Raphael, or the poems of a Shakespeare? Admiration, study, have here alone place. At least, in these mere human works, the presumption ever is that the master is right and the critic is a fool. How much more must this be so in the relation between the ignorant creature and the omniscient Creator? But in the oracle, this great truth is supported, not by a comparison of ignorant man with great geniuses, but by a comparison of men with angels. They are the immediate servants of the Most High; they stand nearer to him than man. Yet they are imperfect, unworthy of the full confidence of their Divine Lord, liable to error and mistake. How much more so man, who is conscious of sin as they are not - sin that disturbs his judgment, that clouds his perceptions! Again, the angels enjoy a life ever vigorous and young, that knows not decay nor death! But man inhabits a house of clay, an earthly tabernacle; he wears a "muddy vesture of decay," and lives on "this dim spot of earth." He is an ephemeral creature, living from dawn to sunset; easily crushed like a moth; living in dense ignorance, amid which death suddenly surprises him. This, it is true, is not the only aspect of human life. All is comparison. If man's spiritual nature be contrasted with the shortness of his life and the feebleness of his powers, it rises into grandeur by the comparison. But if his mere intellect be brought into contrast with the Infinite Intelligence, then he must needs sink into insignificance. A true comparison will either teach us faith and hope, or humility; and both lessons are derived from the nearer view of the pro-founder knowledge of the greatness of God.
VI. INFERENCES FROM THE ORACLE.
1. The idleness of complaints against God.. (Job 5:1.) For the very angels, should Job apply to one of them, would in the consciousness of their relation to the Supreme, adopt no complaint of the kind.
2. Such complaining spirit is the sign of a fatal folly. (Vers. 2, 3.) 'Tis a sin which, if indulged, will slay the sinner. And here follows another powerful picture of the dread fatality attending upon the fool - upon him who would in thought and life nourish a quarrel with Heaven. He may for a time appear prosperous and firmly rooted, but the doom will fall upon him and his house. "I knew such a case," says Eliphaz, with emphasis. "Not blinded by the outward dazzle of his future, I, in abhorrence of his character, predicted his downfall; and it has come to pass. His sons, feeling all the weight of a father's guilt, are thrust aside, and can obtain no justice at the hands of their fellows (ver. 4). Those whom the father had oppressed seize, as in the hunger and thirst of the 'wild justice' of revenge, upon the property of the sons; they ravage and despoil, and snatch the vainly guarded harvest even from among the thorns" (ver. 5). CONCLUDING LESSON. There is a cause of every human suffering, and that cause is not external, but internal (vers. 6, 7). Not external. Not accidental. Not like the weed that springs from the earth, and which can be rooted out at will. But internal. The cause of man's sufferings is deeply seated in his nature. He is born to suffer. He is a native of the territory of woe. As certain this as any physical law - as that sparks should fly upward, and that stones should fall. Vain, then, these murmurs against the course and constitution of things. Whatever is, is best. If sorrow be a great part of our destiny, resignation is our wisdom and our duty. And he who has learned calmly to bow before the inevitable, and to submit to law, is prepared to listen to those sweet consolations which Eliphaz proceeds to unfold from the nature of him whose will is to bless, not curse; who follows out, by the very means of pain and sorrow, the eternal counsels of love. - J.
Parallel VersesKJV: Now a thing was secretly brought to me, and mine ear received a little thereof.