Why does the Almighty not reserve times for judgment? Why may those who know Him never see His days?
I. DEEDS OF VIOLENCE AND FRAUD. (Vers. 1-4.) "Why are not times laid up," i.e. reserved, determined by the Almighty, "and why do those who know him (i.e. his friends) not see his days?" - the days when he arises to judgment, days of revelation, days of the Son of man (Ezekiel 30:3; Luke 17:22). Then comes a series of acts of violence, oppression, persecution, permitted by God the removal of landmarks (Deuteronomy 19:14; Deuteronomy 27:17; Proverbs 22:28; Proverbs 23:10); the plunder of herds (Job 20:19); the taking of the property of the helpless in pledge (Exodus 22:26; Deuteronomy 24:6); the thrusting of the poor from the way into pathless spots, so that the miserable of the land are compelled to hide themselves from the intolerable oppression.
II. THE MISERY OF THE PERSECUTED. (Vers. 5-8) Ver. 5 is an apt description of the beggarly vagabond way of life of these Troglodytes, the types of the present Hottentots or Bushmen in South Africa: "As wild asses in the desert they go forth in their daily work, looking out for booty; the steppe gives them food for their children. On the field they reap the fodder of the cattle, and glean the vineyard of the wicked," thievishly not labouring in his service. Naked, cold, shelterless, exposed to the rain amidst the mountains, they cower for shelter among the rocks (vers- 7, 8).
III. FURTHER DESCRIPTIONS OF TYRANNY. (Vers. 9-12.) The orphan is torn from the mother's breast by cruel creditors, who intend to repay themselves by bringing up the child as a slave. The property of the poor is seized in pledge (comp. Amos 2:8; Micah 2:9). Then follows another picture of the victims of oppression, not now as wanderers of the steppe, but as the wretched denizens of inhabited cities (vers. 10-12). In nakedness and hunger, they carry sheaves for the supply of the rich man's table, while they themselves are starving. And thus the cry of those whose wages have been kept back by fraud goes up to Heaven (Deuteronomy 25:4; 1 Timothy 5:18; James 5:4). We have a picture of ancient labour in the olive- and vine-growing East. While they press the olive or tread the wine-press they suffer cruelly from thirst. The groans of dying men fill the air, "and yet God never speaks a word!" "He heeds not the folly" with which these impious tyrants disregard and trample upon the moral order. - J.
Behold, I go forward, but He is not there.
I. THE ACTIVITY OF THE DIVINE WORKING. "On the left hand, where He doth work." And we have but to open our Bible to find how all through its pages this great truth runs as the soul of its teaching. Events which are held to be quite independent of all special causation, the Bible puts into the hand of God. "He maketh the sun to shine." "He sendeth the rain." "He maketh the grass to grow." "He giveth snow like wool." "He holdeth the winds in His fist." "The lightnings go before Him." "Fire and hail, snow and vapour," and the "stormy wind fulfil His word." All material forces, as they are set into action and get their interplay in the management of the worlds, are the servants of God and do His bidding; and they are forces only so far and so long as they are the channels of His will. A change in the direction of the latter, a suspension in the purposes of God, — and all material activities perish. Personal endowments, which we count innate and constitutional, are His gifts. "There is a spirit in man, and the respiration of the Almighty giveth him understanding." Talents, whether of the body or the mind, are distributed by Him. "He holdeth our soul in life." "He teacheth man knowledge." "Genius is His gift; poetry His inspiration; art His wisdom." The skill to govern, the heroism to defend, the science to construct and adorn a nation's life are conferred by Him. "He teacheth" man's "hands to war," and his "fingers to fight." There is running through every part of the inspired volume a profound recognition of law; but it is law into which there is inserted the ceaseless activity of a Divine volition. A causeless causation, a self-originating, self-acting law is unknown in nature; as it is non-existent in the creed of those ancient men to whom God revealed the earliest transcript of His thoughts. This activity of the Divine presence brings human life, with all its interests, very close to God. It makes each one of our own concernments real and very precious in its relation to Him. The individual is never slighted, can never be overlooked, is never forgotten in the magnitudes and the multiplicities of the Divine care. Amidst the play of His magnificent thoughts as these embrace the universe of things, His eye is set upon the one as upon the all, upon the atom as upon the mass. While the magnitudes and the multiplicities of worlds and systems are within the sweep of His plan, that plan takes in the obscurest individual, the most insignificant event. How this is, how it can be, we know not. "Behold, He that keepeth Israel, shall neither slumber nor sleep." "Put Thou my tears into Thy bottle: are they not in Thy book?" If from these general statements we pass on to those that are more specific in their details, the same truth still more impressively comes into view. Afflictions are not arbitrary visitations. They are never a lawless or a purposeless infliction. They are, in some of their visitations, resistless as the lightning's flash, and as insatiable as the grave. Now, the Bible tells us that, in some significant sense, all these afflictions come from God. However apparently accidental, and without any order in their known antecedents, they all have a parentage in the providence of God; and they are all made tributary to a purpose. "He woundeth, and His hands make whole." He chastiseth, and He rebuketh. "Thou, O God, hast proved us: Thou hast tried us. Thou broughtest us into the net; Thou laidest affliction upon our loins." They are neither accidents, nor necessary appendages, nor arbitrary adjuncts of our nature or condition as men. They are methods of training, modes of correction, admonitory whispers, wise teachings in the dealings of God with us as fallen, as sinful men; and so far they are fraught with the kindest intentions, and minister to most important and salutary ends. God does not create evil. He does not necessitate suffering. He works it into His plan, and uses it for good. Death, avowedly the most impressive and terrible of all our afflictions, and coming upon us in the most unanticipated surprises of time and place and mode and victims, is claimed as the supernatural visitation of God. "The Lord killeth, and maketh alive: He bringeth down to the grave, and bringeth up." "It is appointed unto men once to die." Whenever it comes, however it comes — whether it be by disease or accident, in youth or in age, at sea or on land — death is the appointment of God, and comes at His bidding; and the time, the place, the method are to be accepted and submitted to as being separately in His hand, and determined by His will. No man ever slips by stealth out of time, or appears unexpectedly in his Maker's presence. "The keys of death and of hell" are in the hands of the Lord of Life. So on the grander scale of national visitations. "His eyes behold, His eyelids try the children of men." "He changeth the times and the seasons: He removeth kings, and setteth up kings." "He enlargeth the nations, and straiteneth them again." When a great nation is suddenly crippled in its resources, or blighted in its harvests, or wasted by the pestilence; when fires or floods carry havoc and death among a people; or war lays waste a peaceful territory, leaving only "its rills of blood and drifts of bones" where once the homestead bloomed in wealth and beauty; still the demand is, "Shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord hath not done it?" Are the politics of nations only a great chessboard on which conflicting politicians play their little games of ambition, while God is out in the distance, unconcerned in the petty strife? Nay; through all these strifes and tossings of human pride and ambitious cupidity, there runs the thread of a Divine purpose, permitting all, holding all, guiding and subordinating all to a determinate end.
II. THE OBSCURITY OF THE METHODS OF THIS WORKING. "Behold, I go forward, but He is not there;...He hideth Himself, that I cannot see Him."
1. There are reasons, depths and mysteries, in the methods of the Divine working, into which we cannot look; causes in which that working originates, and purposes which it intentionally subserves, past our finding out. How, through all this maze of human things, is the Divine will a creative force? We cannot tell. Sometimes, as if through the small chinks in the interplay of events, as by a sunbeam sifted through a rift in the clouds, we seem to got a momentary glimpse of the Actor and His plan. "The Lord uttereth His voice," — and we can scarcely doubt whose voice it is, or what is the message it convoys. But it is not always thus. It is not frequently so. And least of all is it so with the sufferings of God's people. However clear our views, however firm our convictions of the rectitude and wisdom and goodness of God may be, events are constantly taking place that confound all our reasoning; and while they tax severely our submission, they impose a heavy tribute upon our faith. "The Lord hath His way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of His foot." "He giveth not account of any of His matters." A silence, unbroken as the grave — absolute, awful, infinite — seems to mock the agony of the sufferer, without the solace of a momentary relief. "We wait for light, but behold obscurity; for brightness, but we walk in darkness."
2. One cause of this obscurity is, undoubtedly, to be found in ourselves, in the imperfect instruments with which we seek to gauge the purposes of God. I do not mean in the limitation of our human powers, making it impossible for the keenest scrutiny to pierce into those abysses of gloom in which God is surely and silently working; but in our want of a spiritual temper, the absence of a moral affinity between ourselves and God, which so surely puts us at a distance from Him, and so leaves the highways of His providence incomprehensible to us. Our unlikeness to the Divine nature is, I think, one of the main barriers which shut out the light from the sufferer's eye. We do not see so far or so clearly into some of the Divine dealings with us as we might do, or as God intends we should do, just because the range of our spiritual eyesight is limited by some inward blur or film. Faith is the soul's super sensuous eye; but when it is darkened by the distempers of sin, it is like a broken lens in a telescope, it fractures and distorts the image. In those matters it is with our spiritual senses very much as it is with the man who seeks to get a bold and commanding view of nature's scenery; almost everything depends on the position we occupy. To those on the mountain top the light comes the earliest, and with them it lingers the longest. The air is purer; the range of vision is wider: while the skies without a cloud seem dark and distant to those down beneath the shadows in the valley. And so, doubtless, it is in the scope and power of that spiritual analysis by which we seek to understand the darker mysteries of providence. We lack sympathy with the great Operator in the intrinsic excellency of His being; and this puts remoteness upon our position and dulness upon our perception, as we seek to penetrate His policy in dealing with us. "We see through a glass, darkly." Hence the remoteness in which men habitually think of God. The unvisioned eye sees Him only as a distant presence, a cold and silent spectator on the outermost confines of nature; or as utterly outside of His own world of men and things. God is so far off that our voice cannot reach Him, His hand cannot reach us; and though His arrows fly swift and terrible as the lightnings in their fiery tracks through space, they do, somehow, seem without a purpose. God reigns over the world; but we do not see how He governs it. On the other hand, the purified eye, the soul made clean from sin, pierces the gloom with a quick, intelligent gladness, that brightens everything, even the dark and sorrowful, into light and beauty. "The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him; and He will show them His covenant." Likeness to God, loyalty to conscience, trust in goodness, obedience to truth, — these unseal the eyelids of the soul, and flood with meaning the purposes of the Divine will.
3. The comprehensiveness of the plan on which providential enactments transpire, must of necessity entail obscurity in many of its details. "We are but of yesterday, and know nothing, because our days upon the earth are a shadow." Our little world is but an atom of the great whole of men and things. The great whole of men and things is but an atom in the wholeness of the Divine plan. That plan must embrace all time and place; all worlds, with their inhabitants; and all events, with their issues. It takes in time; but then it takes in also eternity. Hence, first, events are never single. They have their antecedents, and their consequents. They may be the offspring not of one antecedent, but of many. To the all-embracing mind of Omniscience, each passing event of today must intertwine with all the extents of yesterday; as these will in turn embrace all other events in giving birth to those of tomorrow. So with the race of man. "We are all links in the great chain which winds round the two axles of the past and the future." "We who live," says Comte, "are ruled by the dead." Here, then, is one of our grand mistakes in seeking to understand the ways of God. We are in too great a hurry to decipher passing events. We look for reasons too close to ourselves, too isolated and specific in their range; and so we seek results too immediate in time. While the Supreme Mind contemplates the whole of life in each link, and the whole of each separate link in the One chain, we narrow the great drama to one solitary act, and that beginning and closing in ourselves. We overlook the past, which to many of us may hold the secret of those very events whose occurrence overwhelms or distracts us in the present; and we shut out the future as well as the past; and, yet, both the past and the future may sustain some immediate but inscrutable relation to the mystery of the suffering present. "God's thoughts are not our thoughts, neither are His ways our ways." What can we, — what can angel minds know of this strange problem which providence holds for solution?
4. Then, the moral purposes which some, possibly many, of our darkest experiences are intended to accomplish, must not be left outside of the causes which perplex us. The response, "What I do thou knowest not now," may indicate a mercy not less than a necessity. Light, making clear the purpose, might defeat the end. "It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord." "Tribulation worketh patience." By these moral purposes we mean the sum total of religious gain that afflictive visitations are intended to secure — first, to the individual sufferer; then, to those with whom he may be more immediately related; and lastly, to the universal good. All human events, of whatever order, under whatever apparent exceptions, are to be construed by the Christian man according to that rule, "We know that all things work together for good to them that love God"; or by a more distributive three-fold rule, containing, first, the negative assurance, that "there shall no evil touch" him; secondly, the positive pledge, that "no good thing shall be withheld from him"; and thirdly, the constructive, all-embracing promise that "all things" shall "work together for" his "good." This threefold promise is the statute law, the blessed triune charter, under which the Christian lives; nor is any event ever suffered to befall a good man, but one, or both, or all three of these great laws come into benignant operation. This is the providence of grace. And it is in the methods through which these laws come out in their action, that one source of our perplexity not unfrequently reveals itself. Even when the vision is the clearest, it is often impossible to see which first, and sometimes how at all, these several promises are being manipulated in the interests of the individual man. Sometimes the end proposed is not related immediately to the means. As in the case of Joseph and Job, Daniel and Esther, the end to be reached appears wholly out of the way of the method employed. Then, the good contemplated in some dispensations of providence is not single, but manifold. In the history of Joseph, the afflictions of which he was the immediate victim had a mission backwards into his own family circle, and forwards into the Egyptian court, and so onward through all the world's future history in its preparation through the Jewish nation for the incarnation and redemption of Christ, — results these, all of which seem to us incongruous and immeasurably distant in their relation to the "coat of many colours," and the exile and slavery in Egypt; yet, to God, they were all braced into a consistent and instant present, the last link parallel with the first, the first coincident with the last. The ploughshare of the destroyer goes crashing through the centre of a household, upturning suddenly its very foundations, and in the ghastly wreck extinguishes a whole springtime of youthful hopes in a father's grave. Do you ask, Why all this? Why does God hide His purpose, and robe His presence in clouds and darkness even from those who love Him? The answer, sufficient for us, is, That our manhood may be trained to trust. We grow strong by endurance. If we knew all beforehand, there would be no room for faith, for submission, for the balancing of motives. If we knew as God knows, we should be as God.But we are infants, being trained. Patience is the fruit of trial. Our faith is born in struggle.
1. Here then is, first, a rebuke to our petulance. It says, "Be still, and know that I am God!" We are in the dust before Him. "Our God is in the heavens: He hath done whatsoever He hath pleased." What can a child, on the scaffolding of some unfinished colossal pile of architecture, know of the skill and purpose of its construction? And what are we but baby builders in the plan of God, — ephemeral insects, whose life is a leaf in the forest of worlds!
2. Let us see how this present obscurity ministers to hope. The darkness which now envelops the Christian's path, and which for the reasons we have shown must continue to envelop it, creates, as it justifies, the expectation that hereafter, in this or in some other state, light will arise out of obscurity, and we shall see as we are seen, and "know even as also" we are "known." It cannot be that the limitations, the disappointments, the chafings of a bitter unrest are to be perpetuated beyond the grave. Some of the sorrowful chapters of life may be made clear even on this side of the screen.
3. Still more fully, still more tenderly, this assurance of light takes in the future world. "What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter." There are profundities in creation which from the beginning of time have been struggling to get into expression, and have not spoken yet. And there are mysteries in our human life — events, epochs, dispensations — whose cloudy advent in time will constitute apocalyptic visions for our studies through eternity. "The times and the seasons the Father hath put in His own power." In the wide uplands and glorious expanse of the eternal life, God will surely tell thee, thou poor, solitary sufferer, why thou wast left alone, without a sheltering hand or a counselling voice, when in the inexperienced days of youth thou neededst them the most.
1. It might relieve us, if God were to reveal Himself, even in any degree, to any one of our external senses. But He never now condescends to discover Himself even thus far to the inhabitants of our world. Consequently it is not unreasonable for us all to dread that there may be some judicial reason why God is so hiding Himself from our knowledge.
2. This suspicion appears to be confirmed in some measure, or to a certain modified extent, by our happening to know that there is at least one other world where the same God has other worshippers, from whom He never did hide Himself. There may be many more such worlds than one.
3. There was a time when it was far otherwise with this world. At one time it was so much like heaven, as that the Lord did in those days speak with a human voice to the man whom He had then just newly created, like unto Himself in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness, with dominion over all the inferior creatures whom he saw around him.
4. It tends to aggravate our quite natural and just suspicion, when we consider that God, who is now so hiding Himself from all the careless, will not always, nor even will He much longer continue to hide Himself from any one of us. Relief alone comes, when awakened to a sense of sin, we are led to turn to the Only Begotten of the Father. He hath revealed Him.
(John Bruce, D. D.)
I. THE GREAT SEARCH FOR GOD WHICH EVERY TRUE LIFE MUST UNDERTAKE. The search must proceed, for there is no true life without the knowledge of God; and there is no full life without the satisfying knowledge of God. The true knowledge of God can only come through struggling. This will appear on the following two considerations.
1. A true knowledge of God is inward riving heart knowledge. And —
2. The true knowledge of God is progressive knowledge. But the truest man in the world may enter into seasons of very great perplexity. God is larger than our thoughts, and grander than our creeds. They cannot express the fulness of God.
II. THE GUARANTEE OF THE SUCCESS OF THIS STRUGGLE TO FIND GOD. "He knoweth the way that I take." The search for God depends on an inner knowledge of God; and we have the paradox, that we do know God, and yet are searching for Him. We know when we have found Him, for He is in our deepest life as an ideal. If our hearts are true, if our lives are sincere and pure, we have the guarantee that we shall at length see God in the fulness of His glory.
III. THE PURPOSE AND ISSUE OF THIS GREAT STRUGGLE. The struggle which is necessary to find God and truth is a test of our character. Truth requires a struggle, the constant use of our best energies. Infidelity is the laziest thing in the world, but it is by heart sweat that truth is found. The struggle to find God preserves the "truth of the life." Life is preserved by progress, and progress involves conflict. Life is movement, stagnation is death. This struggle not only preserves the truth of the life, it purifies and develops it. This is my message — See that you struggle to find God. While you are searching, remember to be true. And search on.
(John Thomas, M. A.)
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