Lectures on Job 29-32

Job 29‑32  •  29 min. read  •  grade level: 5
Lecture 8 Chaps. 29-31
This is the beginning of Job's last argument. The friends were quite silenced; he now makes his final confutation; and, indeed, it is more an appeal than an argument, for he rises above all that they had been pleading and insinuating.
Here he gives us in these chapters 29-31 a very interesting pouring out of his feelings. The first of these chapters reviews his early days of prosperity, and we can see the very great complacency that he had in all that grace had wrought in him. But, alas! there was another thing that ought not to have been. He took pleasure in his good character. He was therefore in spirit too much of a Pharisee. “I thank thee that I am not as other men.” It was not but that there was great grace in Job, and that there was a very admirable character sustained; but why should he talk about it? why should he think upon it? why should he not think of the source of all the blessing? Why should he not be boasting in the Lord—instead of an implied boasting in himself? There was the very thing that God had a controversy with. And we see that up to this time Job had not got; to the bottom of that which God was ferreting out. Satan had completely disappeared. He is always defeated with the children of God. He may appear to gain a battle, but the campaign is always against him; and so it is very marked in the case of Job.
But the second of these three chapters looks at his downfall; that is the great topic that is in it. He bemoans his terrible state; and up to the present he could not withhold the expression that he thought God dealt hardly with him, and was arbitrary. He could not understand His ways in the slightest degree; nor did he take in the motive that God had—the gracious purpose. In short, he had not reached the end of the Lord, because he had not done with himself. That is the real secret of it.
And the next chapter—the last of his appeal—is a most impassioned setting himself before God, and implicating judgments on himself. So thoroughly was his conscience good, that he goes over all the various snares of a man, and especially a man of position and wealth like Job; because that always increases the danger, and always makes the difficulty more. There is no greater mistake than to suppose that poverty is the hard place in which to serve God. On the contrary, it is when people are no longer poor, and no longer feel the need of continual dependence upon God—when they begin to be independent—for the world is not ashamed to call it that. I am sorry to say that Christians even drop into the language and the spirit of the world. Job calls solemn judgments upon himself—looking at the various snares—if he had been guilty in this or that or the other and so on-and the upshot of it all is that “The words of Job are ended.”
We have no more of Job now in the way of self-defense. We shall find a very interesting new speaker on which I may say a few words on the next chapter to-night. But now, first of all, Job says: “Oh, that I were as in months past.” Now it is always a bad sign when people look back to dwell on the past. Are people not to grow? Are children of God merely to be occupied with the immense favor of God? No doubt it is very true that one is plucked out of the teeth of Satan; but what is that compared with the positive knowledge of God? It is a great thing for us; but is not the knowledge of God infinitely greater than merely the action of divine grace in rescuing a poor wretched sinner? It is an admirable thing for the sinner always to feel it; but it is a sad thing when he looks back to it as the brightest of all things. Why, that means he has been making no progress at all; it means that he has been all these years afterward looking back upon that as the divine moment. Surely divine life ought to be a growing enjoyment; and the more so as you know of Christ and of God—I am speaking now to Christians, of course.
But even for Job God never left himself without witness—and God always met the souls that really walked with Him. Who can doubt but that Enoch walked with God, and do you suppose that Enoch looked back at the first glimpse he had of God, and would say he knew God by that? No, far from it, and shame on all people who talk such language. I do not deny that it is the language of many a Christian, but that is the most sorrowful thing now—that Christians forget what it is to be a Christian. They only think of the moment of becoming a Christian, and they seem to think that that is the great thing. No doubt it is passing the border, but it is certainly not going into the brightness beyond it. Where is the feast; where is the joy of the Father; where is the best robe, and all the other accompaniments? Is that nothing? Well, that was after. And that is what in an image presents us with the positive place of blessing. The “grace wherein we stand” —not merely the grace that rescued us, but the grace wherein we stand. It is a continual place of grace to be enjoyed more and more as we learn more of God and judge ourselves. But there is where Job failed. Job admired himself. And so he looks back. “Oh, that I were as in months past.” God was going to do far better. It is true that Job went through very severe sifting, but that was all for his good; and more than that, it was for your good and my good, and the good of every believer that has ever profited by this book since God had it written down. It was meant for the blessing of all. It was not intended that there should be perhaps another man to go through the same. God has His economy of good; God has His reserve of grace; God was pleased that one should have had a, very broad back to bear the trial. We have heard of the patience of Job; but that is the very thing wherein he broke down, so that he became impatient at last even with God. And the reason was because he was not yet an utterly broken man—he was given to knowing about himself.
Oh, how very rarely one finds a saint of God even now what every saint of God ought to be; but it is a rare thing even among Christian people. “As in the days when God preserved me; when His candle shined upon my head, and when by His light I walked through darkness; as I was in the days of my youth.” Why, that is a strange thing— “my youth.” No getting on with God in his maturity or in his old age! What was Job about? “When the Almighty was yet with me, when my children were about me.” Was not He with him then? That is just what he did not see or know. “Whom He loveth He chasteneth"; and that is one of the great lessons of the Book of Job. I admit it was terrible chastening. And that is where the friends were all wrong; it was so terrible that they thought it was retributive, and that it was impossible for a person to suffer to such an extreme degree unless he had been extremely wicked. And what made it worse was that he looked so good, and therefore they thought he must be a hypocrite. There they were completely wrong; and the consequence was that they had to go down lower than Job, and that Job had to pray for them that they might be spared. And this he did. But, however, I anticipate what we will have another day.
“When I washed my steps with butter” —of course it is not literal— “and the rock poured me out rivers of oil.” You see that petroleum is an old affair in this world! “When I went out to the gate through the city, when I prepared my seat in the street! The young men saw me, and hid themselves; and the aged arose, and stood up.” All that was exceedingly pleasant to Job. And we are apt to think so too—there is nothing, they say, that succeeds like success, and there is not a more wicked maxim or one more entirely contrary to God; nothing more thoroughly denying that we are now in the place of suffering, and of being despised and rejected for Christ's sake. But that is a worldly maxim, and it is just what the world delights in. Men will praise you if you do well to yourself, that is, if you are successful—make a good fortune, and have nice dinner parties, and so on. “The princes refrained talking, and laid their hand on their mouth.”
Now one of the beautiful features about Job was that he did not pretend to be noble, and he did not seek to be a prince. He was like a king in the nobility of his character—what a king ought to be—he was truly noble in his ways; and all that would have been admirable if he had not said or thought; for that is the important point. “Let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth.” It does not mean that other people do not know it, but the wrong is that our left hand should know what our right hand does, i.e., we ought not to think about it. It is done to God; and it is merely returning a very little interest for the wonderful capital for the spiritual capital that the Lord has put in our power.
Here you see it was not so. Job was highly pleased, and took great pleasure in the world thinking so much of him. “When the ear heard me, then it blessed me” now he is looking at what you may call the objects of his kindness and love. For there was both kindness and love in Job. “And when the eye saw me, it gave witness to me.” He was referring to the people that had been helped out of their manifold afflictions. “Because I delivered the poor that cried, and the fatherless, and him that had none to help him.” And that was really true. God delighted in Job; that was all right; and he found at last that God did delight in him, but he did not find that till after the trial. He was buoyed up and raised above the ordinary occupations of men by the homage that was paid him and the perception of his exceeding kindness. All that lifted him up. Well, that is a very natural thing; but it is not spiritual; and it is the very thing that God was putting down severely in him; much more so than in a very inferior man. The greatest trials that God inflicts are upon the strongest, those that are able to bear them. Those that know most of His ways—they come in for it. And that was the case with Job.
“The blessing of him that was ready to perish came upon me; and I caused the widow's heart to sing for joy. I put on righteousness, and it clothed me” —that was very true, and he looked at his clothing too— “my judgment was as a robe and a diadem.” Yes, very pleased was Job. “I was eyes to the blind, and feet was I to the lame. I was a father to the poor; and the cause which I knew not I searched out. And I brake the jaws of the wicked, and plucked the spoil out of his teeth. Then I said, I shall die in my nest.” No, no; God was going to disturb that nice nest of his that was so warm and comfortable. “And I shall multiply my days as the sand.” Why, he had been very desirous that God should cut short his days; for that was the only way that he saw out of all the trouble he was passing through. “My root was spread out by the waters, and the dew lay all night upon my branch. My glory was fresh in me, and my bow was renewed in my hand. Unto me men gave ear, and waited, and kept silence at my counsel. After my words they spake not again; and my speech dropped upon them. And they waited for me as for the rain; and they opened their mouth wide as for the latter rain. If I laughed on them, they believed it not” it is too good to be true— “and the light of my countenance they cast not down. I chose out their way, and sat chief, and dwelt as a king in the army, as one that comforteth the mourners.”
You cannot be surprised that the Jews were the first rationalists; they were the higher critics of a former day. They did not believe that it was a true story the philosophic Jews—they did not believe that. How far it penetrated the synagogue generally we cannot say. I presume there were simple-hearted men that fully believed every word of it. But one of the great reasons why the Jews did not accept this history was that Job was not a Jew. “Oh! that cannot be; why, they are all dogs. Everybody but a Jew is a dog.” And the idea that God did not say it of Abraham that he was of such integrity that there was nobody like him in all the earth—nor of Isaac, nor of Jacob! No, this they could not believe. They knew that it was of a patriarch of those days, and therefore they were dead set against the possibility of such a thing as God extolling one who was not of the chosen race, one of the family and of the nation that had the promise.
What is it that makes people higher critics? It is that they prefer their own thoughts to the word of God. That is what it is to be an unbeliever; and if it is carried out thoroughly you are an infidel; you are a lost man. I presume that these Jews fully held to the other books of the Bible. It is to be presumed so. Perhaps they did not like some others. I can understand their no more liking the prophecy of Jonah being given to a Gentile city than that Jonah liked to be the prophet sent there. He did everything to turn away from it; and when God told him to go east he went west. When he was told to go to Nineveh he took a ship at Joppa to go west—just in the very opposite direction.
Well, now, in the next chapter (30.) we have a totally different story. Job now says, “But now they that are younger than I have me in derision.” You can suppose how very painful that was to a man that had been living a good deal upon the witness of these grand deeds and the high opinions of him, and the humbler classes, for once in a way, being entirely along with the grandees. For at times they do truly love to differ. “Whose fathers I would have disdained to have set with the dogs of my flock.” Ah! Job, you can be cutting; you can strike deep if you are so disposed. He would not have set their fathers with the dogs of his flock! Just think of it. And he gives his reason. He says, “Yea, whereto might the strength of their hands profit me?” Job was a wise man, and if he had servants he had servants that could do their duty. But as very often happens with the most miserable of the world, they are weak, and unable to do a good day's work, nor a good hour's work. Whatever they do, they do in a manner that is enough to provoke any person to look at them. And so he says, “For want and famine they were solitary; fleeing into the wilder-ness in former time desolate and waste. Who cut up mallows by the bushes, and juniper roots for their meat. They were driven forth from among men (they cried after them as after a thief)” —they were most disreputable, and Job would not have had one of them on any account to serve him. He would be very willing to give them food if they were hungry; and if they had no clothing he would surely have abounded even then. But he felt it very much that these men should mock him, and should do everything to deride his sufferings, and not only that with these men in general, but that the young men tried to trip up his tottering steps! For you know the soles of his feet were intolerable—from head to foot not only was every nerve, as it were, active, but the very worms were beginning to prey upon him while he was alive, through all the sores that were open. It was a most awful case.
Yet what is that compared with moral suffering? Do you suppose the apostle Paul did not suffer much more severely than with any bodily trouble? He suffered from false brethren a great deal. And I think he must have suffered from true brethren very often—perhaps even more, but in a different way. “To dwell in the cliffs of the valleys, in caves of the earth, and in the rocks. Among the bushes they brayed.” He will not allow that they talked—they brayed. “Under the nettles they were gathered together. They were children of fools, yea, children of base men” i.e. of fathers that had not a name themselves— “they were viler than the earth, And now am I their song; yea, I am their byword. They abhor me.” Think of that—these words were all true. “They flee far from me.” They could not bear to look at him—at the agony, and the terrible effect of all these sores on his body. They could not go near him. “And spare not to spit in my face. Because he hath loosed my cord.” There was after all what grieved the heart of poor Job more than anything. It was God. He does not mean the devil; it was not the devil. “Because He hath loosed my cord, and afflicted me” (and so to end of verse 16).
You see there is no reference to his three friends now. He is looking really at this tremendous trial that afflicted his body, and that exposed him to all this disrespect and contempt of the very lowest creatures on the face of the earth. “My bones are pierced in me in the night season; and my sinews take no rest. By the great force of my disease is my garment changed; it bindeth me about as the collar of my coat.” Look at the pain all that would occasion. “He hath cast me into the mire, and I am become like dust and ashes. I cry unto thee and thou dost not hear me.” But God did hear him. There was a reason why He did not answer; but God did hear. “I stand up, and thou regardest me not. Thou art become cruel to me.” There he was quite wrong. “With thy strong hand thou opposest thyself against me. Thou liftest me up to the wind: thou causest me to ride upon it and dissolvest my substance. For I know that thou wilt bring me to death” —there he was wrong again. God had good things in store for Job. “And to the house appointed for all living. Howbeit he will not stretch out his hand to the grave, though they cry in his destruction. Did not I weep for him that was in trouble? Was not my soul grieved for the poor?” he goes back to that. “My harp also is turned to mourning, and my organ into the voice of them that weep.”
Well, there is a third chapter (31.) to which we now come, very distinct from either of these, and this is his final appeal to God. This is all said not so much to his friends as to God; but he still was harping upon the past in the first of these chapters; then upon the present misery; now he appeals solemnly to God, and in the presence of them all.
“I made a covenant with mine eyes; why then should I think upon a maid? For what portion of God is there from above? and what inheritance of the Almighty from on high?” None whatever for a corrupt man, to take advantage of another. “Is not destruction to the wicked? and a strange punishment to the workers of iniquity? Doth not he see my ways” —he was a thoroughly pious believing man— “and count all my steps? If I had walked with vanity, or if my foot hath hasted to deceit, let me be weighed in an even balance that God may know mine integrity.” He had a perfectly good conscience, but that is not enough. There is the great principle of self-judgment; there is the grand principle also of entire submission to God and vindicating Him—that He is right and wise in all, not only in what He does, but in what He allows. It is all for good. It may be very bad on the part of others, as it was on the part of Job's friends, but God had a good purpose for Job in it all.
“If my step hath turned out of thy way,” etc., etc. (vers. 1-12). It is clear that Job was a most blameless man in his conduct, and even in the state of his heart. “If I did despise the cause of my manservant, or of my maidservant” —he now goes to other duties— “when they contended with me, what then shall I do when God riseth up? and, when he visiteth, what shall I answer him?” etc. (vers. 13-23). “If I have made gold my hope” —now he turns to a third kind of snare— “or have said to the fine gold, Thou art my confidence; If I rejoiced because my wealth was great” —and how many do— “and because mine hand had gotten much,” etc., it was not inherited merely; but it was acquired by his own industry and God's particular blessing upon him.
Now he looks at another thing quite different— “If I beheld the sun when it shined, or the moon walking in brightness,” i.e. in the way of any adoration; in bowing down to the sun or moon, which was the earliest form of idolatry. We do not hear of Baals or Ashtoreths or any of the disreputable vanities and wickedness of heathen objects of worship; but here was a work of God of the highest nature, but no leaning to it in any way — “and my heart hath been secretly enticed, or my mouth hath kissed my hand” —even the slightest form of acknowledging the creature! — “this also were an iniquity to be punished by the judge: For I should have denied the God that is above.” There we have very sound doctrine. “If I rejoiced at the destruction of him that hated me, or lifted up myself when evil found him” a very common snare for people. They have a little pleasure when their adversaries come to grief, or are troubled. “Neither have I suffered my mouth to sin by wishing a curse to his soul. If the men of my tabernacle said not, Oh, that we had of his flesh! we cannot be satisfied. The stranger did not lodge in the street; but I opened my doors to the traveler. If I covered my transgressions as Adam, by hiding mine iniquity in my bosom: did I fear a great multitude” —you observe he was perfectly acquainted with the very interesting and profitable story of Adam's fall. There we have just what anyone now, looking back with the light of Christ even, sees. There was the great sin of Adam. Instead of humbling himself to God, and going to meet God to tell Him how he had disgraced himself, Adam hid himself away; and the clothing that he put upon him showed that he was no longer innocent.
“Oh, that one would hear me!” Now here is Job's final appeal. “Behold my desire is, that the Almighty would answer me” —Job wanted to hear His voice about it— “and that mine adversary had written a book. Surely I would take it” —if anyone that wished him ill laid charges— “I would take it,” he says, “upon my shoulder, and bind it as a crown to me” —because he was confident that it was false. “I would declare unto him,” i.e. unto the Almighty; it would seem possibly “the adversary” — “the number of my steps; as a prince would I go near unto him.” I think it is “to the Lord.” “If my land cry against me, or that the furrows likewise thereof complain; If I have eaten the fruits thereof without money, or have caused the owners thereof to lose their life: Let thistles grow instead of wheat, and cockle instead of barley. The words of Job are ended.”
Well, it was very magnificent; as it had been a justification of himself. But it was a great mistake as to the secret of God's dealings with Job, and accordingly a new interlocutor appears. We have not heard of him. It is a remarkable indication of primitive habits and feelings. He was a young man. And this absence of any notice taken of him is just in the spirit of olden manners. And he shows that he perfectly enters into it himself, and in no way complains of it. Elihu, however, was a man put forward by God, to bring to naught the pride of age and experience, observation and tradition. Because there you have what belonged to each of those friends. They were old men, and they were proud of their place. And Eliphaz, as we know, was a man that strongly stood upon the judgment and feeling of public opinion—of pious men, no doubt, but, after all, it was only men's. And one of the wonderful ways of God is this: that no tradition can ever meet present circumstances. The same facts even may occur; but they are in a different light, and the circumstances modify them enormously, and all that has to be taken into account.
Who, then, is sufficient for these things? Our sufficiency is of God. There is the need of dependence upon God. You cannot pile up wisdom in that way for divine things. It is all very fair in science, or knowledge, or art, or literature, or anything of that kind; but it is nothing in the things of God. Zophar seems to be more confident in himself than in anybody. And Bildad was one between the two. He was a man of keen observation and good power of expression. But, however that might be, all had failed, and now Elihu comes forward.
“So these three men ceased to answer Job, because he was righteous in his own eyes” (chap. 32.). That was their idea, and there was some truth in it. “Then was kindled the wrath of Elihu, the son of Barachel the Buzite, of the kindred of Ram.” He belonged to the family of Nahor, the brother of Abraham. He was not properly one of the chosen family, but he was closely connected, like Laban and others. He belonged to another branch. “Against Job was his wrath kindled, because he justified himself rather than God.” Well, that was true. He did justify himself. The last chapter which we have just read is self-justification from beginning to end. It was quite true, as a matter of fact, but was entirely improper in a question of God's dealings, and why this great affliction had come upon him. “Also against his three friends was his wrath kindled, because they had found no answer, and yet had condemned Job.” What was it that hindered these three friends from understanding him? The same thing that hindered Job—self. Self was not judged. Self is one of the greatest difficulties in the way of a Christian—in the way of a sinner of old, and now still among Christians.
“Now Elihu had waited till Job had spoken, because they were older than he.” Well, that was very proper. “When Elihu saw that there was no answer in the mouth of these three men, then his wrath was kindled.” Why? It was not for himself at all. He was displeased with them all for God's sake. “And Elihu, the son of Barachel the Buzite answered and said, I am young, and ye are very old; wherefore I was afraid, and durst not show you my opinion. I said, Days should speak, and multitude of years should teach wisdom” —and so it should be. “But there is a spirit in man” —there is something higher than experience— “there is a spirit in man” —it is the highest part of man's nature. The body is the outward vessel, and the soul is that which makes a man to be a man. Every man has his own spirit, but soul is that which may be in common among men. For instance, John the Baptist came in the spirit and power of Elias. He could not come in the soul of Elias. Everybody comes in his own soul; that is the seat of individuality. But spirit is a man's capacity. You might find half a dozen men with the same capacity; and we say sometimes, “That man spoke like a Luther; that man wrote like a Calvin; that man was as earnest in his work as John Wesley; that man was as diligent in preaching as Charles Spurgeon” —and so on. The spirit of these different men might be similar in other men, but it is that which gives them their particular power (or character). But the soul and spirit go together so closely that no human wit can ever distinguish between them; they are so welded together, being of a spirit nature. When a man dies, his soul goes up and his spirit too; they both go up; they go up together necessarily.
And so then it is that we can understand that there is a spirit in man. Spirit is expressive of spiritual capacity, and that is not to be measured by the question of experience. A man might have much more spiritual capacity who was young. That was the case with Elihu. And he says, “The inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding.” It was God that breathed into man the breath of life; and in that breath of life there was not only the soul but the spirit; and that is the reason why man alone has an immortal soul. God never breathed into a horse or a dog, or any other animal on the earth, but only into man; therefore, man's soul and spirit are immortal. But it may be immortal in hell, or it may be blessedly immortal in heaven! It does not deprive a man of his being a sinner, nor of his bearing the consequences of it; neither, on the other hand, does it deprive him—still less—of receiving eternal life from the Lord Jesus. Then there is another life given to him. “Great men are not always wise: neither do the aged understand judgment.” Far from it. “Therefore I said, Hearken to me; I also will show mine opinion. Behold, I waited for your words; I gave ear to your reasons, whilst ye searched out what to say.” He never ventured to interrupt; he never said one word.
Sometimes people are astonished to find this young man coming forward, after not only the three friends were silent, but Job too. Then he speaks, and he apologizes in these words that I now read. That is all that I am noticing tonight. “Behold, I waited for your words; I gave ear to your reasons, whilst ye searched out what to say. Yea, I attended unto you, and, behold, there was none of you that convinced Job, or that answered his words.” And that was perfectly true. “Lest ye should say, We have found out wisdom.” He saw that it was a question of God. They had not really brought in the true God as He is. “God thrusteth him down, not man.” That is what Job had said. So far, Job was far more right than his friends. “Now he hath not directed his words against me.” So he says—I am in a position to be able to speak dispassionately. If he had attacked me because of anything I had said it might seem self-vindication. But here I must speak for God, young as I am. “Neither will I answer him with your speeches.” They were entirely powerless. “They were amazed, they answered no more: they left off speaking” (vers. 1-15). He was full of indignation that they went on still blaming Job, and could not convince him of anything wrong. They had entirely missed their way. “I will speak, that I may be refreshed: I will open my lips and answer. Let me not, I pray you, accept any man's person, neither let me give flattering titles unto man. For I know not to give flattering titles; in so doing my maker would soon take me away” (vers. 16-22).
And there we may leave it for the present. If the Lord will, we shall have the rest of Elihu's admirable address, where he touches the real roots of the question for the first time—an interpreter who was one of a thousand, as he says himself, though not referring to himself.
W. K.