A Bird's-Eye View of the Book of Job.
by E.K. Groves
AMONG various plans that are profitably adopted for the study of the Word of God, pondering it verse by verse is perhaps that which most feeds the spiritual life. There is another and more difficult one, which provides the reader with an entirely new set of lessons of great value, and it is----Finding the general scope of the instruction given in any one book—-where the chapter takes the place of the word in the verse, and the entire writing unfolds truth that may be compressed into a single sentence.
The traveller on his way from Bath to Salisbury may be almost startled in looking out of the window, as he nears Westbury, with the clear and distinct image of a white horse cut out of the turf on the side of a range of hills some three miles distant, the chalk formation bringing the figure into strong relief. It requires no effort of the imagination to see the resemblance, for the proportions are so just that the little child will exclaim in surprise as readily as its parent as it passes before him. But if the curious traveller stops at the station and walks to the hill for a closer inspection of this work of art of the Middle Ages, he finds himself unable to trace any likeness whatever to the horse. Let him stand at any point of the figure he will, his eye cannot take it all in; its proportions are lost upon him.
It has thus happened in the converse way that the student of the Book of Job, after an attentive examination of “the argument” (as our forefathers called it) in each chapter, closes the history with an undefined sense of disappointment. The expectation has been awakened of the question at issue between Job and his friends being finally settled, and yet the cause of his severe and multiplied trials finds no solution even in the voice of God out of the whirlwind. May not the answer be that the point on which our interest is concentrated is not the Divine lesson which we are to learn?
The foregoing illustration is a failure in one particular, namely, that whereas the work of man referred to must be viewed from a distance to be seen at all, this book of God contains profoundly beautiful lessons in individual verses, and lessons from its chapters of distinct and separate value to that given by the book as a whole. Look at Job’s reply to his wife’s temptation in chap. ii. 10. (The word receive is rather accept, as of one who puts out his hands for a gift.) “WHAT? SHALL WE ACCEPT GOOD AT THE HAND OF GOD, AND SHALL WE NOT ACCEPT EVIL?” Can we find among all recorded utterances of men a sublimer sentence from a suffering saint walking in darkness? Ponder the details of what he had been called to endure, and this portion of a verse will repay hours of prayerful study. These words also mark a distinct period in the history before us. Job had suffered all that Satan could devise and had triumphantly vindicated all that his God had said concerning him. The added anguish he was called to bear in the false charges of his friends (which the following chapters unfold), was not inflicted at Satan’s request. God, Who delivered DANIEL from the den of lions as soon as possible after his steadfastness had been proved, saw fit to permit His servant Job to continue as he was after uttering the foregoing words for seven days and seven nights, without a ray of hope to gild the thick darkness of his accumulated sorrows. Then Job broke forth in piteous lament. Far better it appeared to him not to have been born than to come to such a pass as he found himself in. Perhaps he expected from day to day that some explanation or alleviation of his trouble would be given. God remained silent, and his heart, so to speak, broke under the continued pressure.
The three friends who had as spiritual physicians, found themselves completely at a loss hitherto, because nothing could be remembered against the man of God to account for his present dire affliction, immediately began to prepare their prescriptions. Their stock of medicines was wonderful. Most of them were of Divine origin in the detail, but the compound was an offence unto God and an aggravation to the sufferer, because they were at fault as to the disease. First, they hinted at, and afterwards openly charged him with guilt, of which he was entirely innocent, in order to justify God in His dealings with him. (See chap. xxii. 5, 6, 7, 9.)
We thus learn from the earliest recorded discourses of spiritual teachers that a man’s utterances may be full of the truth of God, and yet that his conclusions may be wholly false. This is a fact of such overwhelming importance in the present day, that God has given us chapter upon chapter to fix it upon our minds. Further, it is a caution to us that, however sure we may feel that a certain sin or sins have been committed when we are brought face to face with sudden and complicated trouble, we are not justified in uttering our thoughts, still less in laying these sins to anyone’s charge, without evidence of their commission coming before us.
We learn from later Scriptures, that affliction is not necessarily connected with failure in the past, but is sometimes sent, like Paul’s thorn in the flesh, to prevent the development of spiritual pride after any great spiritual triumph. The patience of Job recorded in the first two chapters of the book was God’s answer to Satan’s aspersions; the impatience that comes to light under the taunts of his friends is what Job would afterwards have in sorrowful remembrance. “Could I indeed have spoken thus of my God?” and this would enable him to hold the doubled cup of prosperity with a sober hand.
The many chapters occupied with Job’s defense of himself are a wonderful record of the exercises of an upright heart accustomed to communion with God, but now feeling itself forsaken of Him, and accused on all sides with having grievously offended Him. Job’s condition seemed so to justify these accusations that his heart rose against God; and we may truly say his mind lost its balance, for he spoke of the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity as if He were a neighbour who had done him an injustice, and of whom he had a right to demand satisfaction.
ELIHU brings this to his notice but avoids laying to Job’s charge things which he knew not, as the others had done. The latter part of Elihu’s speech draws off Job's attention from himself to contemplate the perfection of God’s works in providence, and when God at length speaks out of the whirlwind, He continues upon the same lines. The Almighty asks Job more than a hundred questions, to all of which he must needs say, “I know not,” while acknowledging that the end that their Maker had in view was perfectly answered in every case.
“Doth the hawk fly by thy wisdom?” for example. Certainly not; but its powers of flight, whether for rising in the air or swooping down on its prey, were perfectly attained by the wings which Divine skill had bestowed.
Every question had the effect of making him smaller in his own eyes and filled him with increasing wonder at the measureless wisdom and power of God. The truth came home to his soul that his Maker was also the Maker of all these things. Infinitely varied as His dealings with them were, the result was to their Maker’s glory; and was Job going to be a solitary exception? The word of Elihu (chap. xxxiii. 13), “Why dost thou strive against Him? for He giveth not account of any of His matters,” is emphatically the lesson of the Book of Job; and Job’s soul was at rest when, by reckoning himself as one indeed of His matters, he looked forward with certainty to a blessed outcome. He would not only say, “When He hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold” (chap. xxiii. 10), but find his darkness become light as he realized it.
The comment of God Himself on the conversations that form the principal portion of the book is found in the last chapter and calls for deep and reverent attention. In verse 7, He tells Eliphaz and his two friends that His wrath is kindled against them for not having spoken of Him the thing that is right. Had they not with one consent ascribed wisdom and power and glory to Him? True, but they had attached the weight of His name to their own false inferences concerning their suffering friend. The fact that he was suffering under the hand of God was evident to them, and it should have made them very, very tender in their touch. May we all remember this, else the sublimest exhortation goes for nothing. The same verse speaks approvingly of the testimony of Job. How this seems to contradict the evidence before us! but it only brings out exquisitely the tenderness and the truth of Him that searcheth the hearts. He had counted all the tears and the throbbings of His servant’s heart in the furnace of affliction. The mother that bends over her delirious child and receives a slap on her cheek neither reckons it an affront nor remembers it as an injury, far less allows it to obliterate years of loving and dutiful service that had gone before.
It is, at the same time, deeply interesting to notice that God recognizes the original kindly intention of the three friends who had proved such miserable comforters; for not until Job had interceded for them as those to whom he had become fully reconciled, is his captivity turned. Does not the history as a whole, illustrate the verse in 1 Cor. iv. 5: “Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, Who both will bring to light the hidden-things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts, and then shall every man have praise of God.” “Footsteps of truth” 1888