The Book of Job
account of the history of human thought on the subject of Providence, however slight and sketchy, could omit the remarkable contribution made by that book in the Hebrew canonical literature which bears the name of Job
. By its intrinsic merits it takes a foremost place, not only in that literature, but in the whole religious literature of the world. Mr. Froude does not exaggerate when he speaks of it as a book unequalled of its kind, which will one day, perhaps, when it is allowed to stand on its own merits, be seen towering up alone, far away above all the poetry of the world.1
As a discussion of the question as to the reality of a Providential order it is unique. There is nothing like it either in the Hebrew Bible or outside of it; nothing so thorough, so searching, or so bold. Surprise has been expressed that a work so audacious and free-spoken should have obtained a place in the Hebrew Canon, under the vigilant supervision of the scribes.2
But there is much more in the Canon with which collectors and editors belonging to that class would find it hard to sympathise, e.g.
many of the prophetic utterances. The prophets paved the way for Job. They inaugurated the type of doubting thought, and they cast the shield of their prestige over an author who went much further in the path of doubt than any of them had ventured. If a prophet might be allowed to ask: Wherefore lookest thou upon them that deal treacherously, and holdest thy peace when the wicked swalloweth up the man that is more righteous than he?3
why should not another earnest student of God's mysterious ways be permitted to make such an apparently irreverent question the theme of a daring, elaborate discussion?
If it entered into the plan of the compilers of the Canon to let the perplexities of thoughtful men on the subject of divine Providence find adequate expression, no book could have a better claim to recognition than the Book of Job. This is its very raison d'être: to give free rein to sincere, serious doubt; to probe the problem of the moral order to the bottom by discussing the test question, Do good men suffer, and why? Its method lends itself to ample exhaustive treatment. The author does not speak in his own name; he makes others speak, introducing as many interlocutors as are necessary to represent all shades of opinion. He is not himself a dogmatist or theorist; he is much more concerned to show how the matter strikes other men than to offer himself as one in possession of a new, satisfactory, solution. He deals with his theme after the manner of a sage rather than after the manner of a prophet. The prophet spoke oracularly, delivering his belief in divine Justice as an inspired message, prefaced with a Thus saith the Lord. The author of Job has no message from God to offer. His mental burden rather is that God does not speak, that He maintains an ominous, oppressive silence as to the meaning of His doings, leaving men to grope their way in the dark as best they can. What he gives us is an animated picture of these gropings, with an occasional illuminating word thrown in here and there to mitigate the gloom of night for such as understand.
As to the date of this priceless product of Hebrew wisdom critics are far from agreement. Opinion, ancient and modern, ranges from the time of Mosesthe author according to the tradition of the synagogueto the fourth century B.C., and even later still. The topic cannot be discussed here. Let it suffice to say that such a book, in the natural course of things, could only be produced when the question of Providence in the individual life had become acute. That did not happen in Israel, so far as we know, till the time of Jeremiah. It is probable, therefore, that our book was written after that famous prophet had delivered his oracles and expressed his doubts about the righteousness of divine government. The reputation of the prophet for borrowing has indeed led some to assign to the author of Job the position of predecessor, both Jeremiah and Job cursing their birth-day in very much the same style. The similarity, however, may be accidental, or, if borrowing took place, it may have been on the other side. Our best guide to the time of composition is a suitable situation. Men write such books in times of dire distress, when the iron of a pitiless destiny has entered into their soul. From this point of view the most congenial general date is that of the captivity in Babylon. The unknown writer of the book of Job may have been a contemporary and companion in tribulation of the unknown prophet to whom we owe the second half of the book of Isaiah.
Coming to the book itself, we find it consists of a prologue and epilogue, both in plain prose, and lying between a long series of very impassioned speeches in poetic dialect arranged in the form of a dialogue, in which the speakers are the hero of the book, three of his friends, another person called Elihu, and finally Jehovah. The prologue quaintly tells the story of a man in the land of Uz, who was at once very good and, for a while, very prosperous, till, by a series of calamities, he was denuded of his prosperity and reduced to a pitiful state of misery. It further lets us into the secret of this change of state. In a gathering of the Sons of God an accuser called Satan appears before the Lord, and insinuates a doubt whether Job would cultivate goodness if his righteousness and piety were to be dissociated from the well-being with which they had hitherto been accompanied.4
There was only one way in which this sinister insinuation could be effectually disposed of, viz., by experiment. Job must be deprived of everything that entered into his cup of happinesshealth, wealth, familyto see how he would behave. This happens accordingly, as we are shown in a succession of tragic scenes.5
The epilogue briefly relates how the sufferer, after enduring patiently his trial, was rewarded by a prosperity exceeding that of which he had been temporarily bereft.6
The question has been raised, in what relation the author of Job stood to these opening and closing sections of the book. A not improbable suggestion is that he took these portions from a people's book previously in circulation relating the eventful story of the man of Uz, and inserted between them the long dialogue which forms his personal contribution to the discussion of the problem as to the connection between character and lot. Whether the whole of the intercalated material, forming the main body of the work, came from his pen is a point much disputed. Many critics think that the speeches of Elihu and Jehovah mar the unity of the book, and must have proceeded from another hand. This question does not greatly concern us. What we are chiefly interested to note is that the speeches of Elihu, whoever wrote them, contain a distinct view of the question in debate. They are on that account deserving of some notice in an attempt to estimate the amount of light thrown by the book of Job as it stands on the mysteries of providence. Besides, it has been maintained that, apart altogether from Elihu's utterances, the theory broached therein can be shown to be that which the author of the book meant to teach.7
When we come to consider the didactic value of the book this opinion will have to be reckoned with.
The part of the work about whose genuineness there is, on the whole, least room for doubt is that in which Job and his three condoling friends hold debate. It is by far the most important as well as the most certainly authentic, and it will repay us to make ourselves somewhat closely acquainted with its contents by a detailed analysis.
Job begins the war of words by a soliloquy in which he curses not God, but his day. Leprosy has been long enough upon him to affect his temper, and he indulges his melancholy humour in fantastic imprecations on the day on which he was born, in passionate longing for the advent of death the great leveller, and for the sweet rest of the tomb; and in expressions of surprise at the continued existence of men so miserable as himself.8
This unrestrained outburst opens the mouth of friends who for seven days have sat in respectful silence in presence of suffering. They have their preconceived ideas about the cause of such sufferings, but they might have kept these to themselves had they not been provoked to speak. Now that Job had spoken so plainly, they may speak with equal plainness. They use their privilege to the full. Eliphaz the Ternanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite, deliver their sentiments, if not with remarkable wisdom, at least with extraordinary fluency, copiousness, and emphasis.
The long discussion between Job and his companions divides itself into three cycles. The plan of the debate is that each of the three friends speaks in turn; Eliphaz first, Bildad second, Zophar third, Job replying to each in succession. The first encounter is described in Chapters iv.-xiv., the second occupies Chapters xv.-xxi., and the third Chapters xxii.-xxxi. In the third cycle Zophar does not speak.9
In the first cycle the combatants take up their ground and reveal their idiosyncrasies. Eliphaz, the oldest, wisest, and most considerate of the three visitors, states at the outset the position held in common by them. With perfect confidence that his theory of Providence is correct beyond question, he presents it for Job's consideration in these terms: Remember, I pray thee, who ever perished being innocent? or where were the righteous cut off? Even as I have seen, they that plough iniquity, and sow wickedness, reap the same,10
This amounts to an assertion that there is a perfect moral government of God in the world rendering to every man according to his deserts here and now. The problem of the book, Do good men suffer, and why? is thus solved by being voted out of existence. There is no such thing as a really good man suffering such calamities as have overtaken Job. The man who so suffers, if not absolutely bad, must at least have been guilty of some very heinous special sins whereof his sufferings are the just penalty. Job is accordingly invited by each of the three friends in succession to regard his afflictions as a call to repentance
in hope of recovering thereby lost prosperity. Behold, exclaims Eliphaz, happy is the man whom God correcteth: therefore despise not thou the chastening of the Almighty.11
If, chimes in Bildad, thou wouldest seek unto God betimes, and make thy supplication unto the Almighty, surely now He would watch over thee and make thy righteous habitation secure, and thy beginning should be small (in comparison) and thy latter end should greatly increase.12
While all holding the same general view, each of the three advocates of this naïvely simple theory supports the common thesis in his own way. Eliphaz bases his belief on observation, and also and very specially on a revelation made to him in a vision, which he introduces into his first speech with an imposing solemnity, whose effect is marred by theatricality in the style and exaggeration in the sentiment. Startled by the night-vision, and with hair standing on end, he hears this oracle uttered by the voice of an invisible speaker: Behold, God putteth no trust in His servants, and His angels He chargeth with folly. How much more them that dwell in houses of clay, whose foundation is in the dust?13
There may have been a time when such courtly, obsequious sentiments could pass for sound theology, but no one whose idea of God is Christian can accept them as bearing the stamp of a veritable divine revelation.
Bildad's stronghold is not special revelation, but the voice of antiquity
. Setting little value on the opinion of such short-lived mortals as himself, he falls back for proof of his theory on the traditions of the fathers. Inquire of the former age, and apply thyself to that which their fathers have searched out (for we are but of yesterday and know nothing, because our days upon earth are a shadow).14
And what is the testimony of bygone generations? That any prosperity which falls to the lot of the wicked is unstable; his good fortune is like the frail reed, or the delicate web of the spider.15
Zophar has neither divine vision nor old saw to enforce his argument. He finds in his own private judgment sufficient evidence of the truth of his views. He is a feeble, barren dogmatist, who makes up for want of thought by bold assertion, and covers the poverty of his imagination by violent language. He speaks to Job more harshly than either of his brethren. Eliphaz softens the charge of guilt by merging the individual case in the general sinfulness of humanity: Man (for his sins) is born unto trouble as the sparks fly upward.16
Bildad merely insinuates that Job may be insincere in his piety, by describing the end of a hypocrite.17
But Zophar calls Job to his face a babbler, a liar, and a fool, and tells him that his sufferings are less than his iniquity deserves. The only thing with any pretensions to originality in his speech is a brief, impotently inadequate eulogium on the unsearchableness of divine wisdom. Canst thou, he insolently asks Job, by searching find out God?18
as if it were Job, and not rather he and his friends who virtually claimed to have fathomed the depths and scaled the heights of the Almighty's mind and way!
Each of Job's replies to these opening speeches of his opponents is divisible into two parts. First, he answers his human adversary; then, forgetting men, he lifts up his soul to God and speaks to Him concerning his afflictions. To get a clear idea of his state of mind, it will be convenient to consider the replies to men and the addresses to God separately, not forgetting, however, that these addresses to the Deity are supposed to be heard by the friends, and to have an argumentative bearing on their position.
As against his human opponents, Job makes a good defence. He brings a preliminary charge of heartlessness against them all. Had they but sympathetically realised the extent of his affliction, he would have been spared the sermon which the Temanite had preached at him. Oh that my grief were thoroughly weighed, and that my sufferings were laid with it in the balances!19
Doth the wild ass bray when he hath grass? or loweth the ox over his fodder?20
That is to say: Do you imagine I have cursed my day without reason? To justify that passionate outburst of impatience, he repeats the wish that his miserable life might forthwith end.21
Then turning on his friends, he reproaches them with lack of sympathy, comparing them to streams in the south which, rolling in full, turbid torrent in winter, dry up and disappear in the scorching heat of summer, just when they are most needed, to the grievous disappointment of travellers passing in caravans through the desert.22
While keenly hurt by his brethren's unkindness, Job is utterly unimpressed by their arguments. In replying to Eliphaz, he contents himself with flatly denying the position he had laid down. My sin, he says in effect, is not the cause of my sufferings, whatever the cause may be. He knows this from his own moral consciousness, whose testimony he trusts implicitly as he trusts his palate for the taste of food. Now therefore, he says to Eliphaz with irresistible directness, be so good as to look upon me, look straight at me. I shall surely not lie to your face. Return, I pray you; don't be unfair. Return, I say again; my righteousness is at stake. Is there iniquity in my tongue? cannot my palate discern what is wrong?23
Do you think, that is to say, I don't know the difference between good and evil?
In his answer to Bildad the Traditionalist Job repeats his denial of the current theory in the form of an ironical admission. Bildad had concluded his speech with the words: Behold, God will not cast away a perfect
man, neither will he help the evil doer.24
To this Job replies: No doubt! I know it is so of a truth.25
That this is ironically meant appears from the fact that the speaker proceeds immediately to state that no one can be just before God, not because man is sinful and God holy, but because man is weak
and God mighty
. Frail mortals have no chance with One who is wise in heart and great in strength, who can uproot mountains, shake the solid earth, obscure the sun, seal up the stars, tread on the waves, and rejoice in the storm.26
With such a powerful Being he, Job, would rather not contend. He would not care to appear with Him in court, either as pursuer or as defender. Even if he were innocent he would not reply to His charges, but would make supplication to his assailant. Though he might deem himself wronged, he would not call the Almighty One's doings in question, lest he should bring on himself more bitter plagues.27
Such sentiments imply that a regard to equity is not apparent
in God's dealings with men. Not right
seems to rule the world. Job accordingly openly, fiercely declares this to be his opinion. I am guiltless; I value not my life, I despise existence. It is all one, therefore I will out with it; guiltless and guilty He destroys alike. When the scourge slays suddenly, He mocks at the distress of the righteous. Earth is given by Him into the hand of the wicked. He covereth the faces of the judges thereof (so that their judgments are unjust or erroneous). If not He, who then is it? The fact at least is undeniable.28
In replying to Zophar, Job becomes contemptuous. No doubt, he exclaims, levelling the remark at all the three friends, but aiming especially at Zophar; no doubt but ye are the people, and wisdom shall die with you. But I have understanding as well as you; I am not inferior to you: yea, who knoweth not such things as these?29
such platitudes, i.e
. as Zophar had just uttered concerning Divine Might and Wisdom. He takes it as an insult to have such things said to him as if relevant to his case. They are not against him, they rather make a point in his favour; for the mysteriousness of God's ways was just the truth which his experience exemplified. Far from denying that truth, therefore, he enlarges on it, eloquently descanting on the wisdom and power of God as manifested in the works of creation and providence, and showing Zophar how far he can excel him even in his own line. This eulogium is one of the choice passages in the book.30
Facts proving that God is wise and mighty abound in the world. But what have they to do with the question at issue? Does God's sovereign power prove that he, Job, is now suffering on account of special sin? If Zophar had no better argument than that, he would have done well to remain silent. So to argue was to play the part of a sycophant towards God, maintaining that all He does must be right because He is almighty. This odious rôle Job without hesitation ascribes to his friends. He calls them special pleaders
for God; charges them with speaking wrong in God's behalf, talking deceitfully for Him, accepting His person, taking His side because it is safe
, saying in effect, The Almighty is of course right, and you are not to be listened to. He has grievously afflicted you, and that settles the matter; you are a wicked man.31
He warns them that God will not thank them for this service. For God is
righteous, though His righteousness does not manifest itself as they imagine, and He will be angry at them for telling lies in His interest, and throwing a poor mortal beneath the wheel of His omnipotence, exclaiming, It is right that he should be crushed; it is the chariot of the Almighty that rolls over him!
In his addresses to God the attitude of Job is more questionable. He utters in these some sentiments of an unbecoming character which, if deliberately entertained, would be blasphemous. In the Authorised Version Job's sayings to and about God do not appear so bad as they really are. The translators, having apparently been unable to conceive the possibility of any one pretending to piety addressing to the Deity such audacious language as Job actually uses, have toned down or whitewashed some of his utterances, so as to give to them an aspect of devoutness which does not belong to them. This is to be regretted, as one great religious use of the book is thereby partially frustrated, that, viz., of letting a suffering saint say the worst things about God which can enter into the minds of good men in their hours of temptation and darkness. There need be no hesitation, therefore, in making the afflicted patriarch appear as profane and irreverent as he is in the Hebrew original.
In his first address,32
after a sad lament over the hard lot of man on earth, followed up by a piteous appeal to the Divine Taskmaster to remember the brevity of human life, fleeting as the wind, dissolving into nothing like a cloud, the sufferer resolves to indulge in unrestrained complaining. So he asks God, Am I a sea, or a sea monster, that Thou settest a watch upon me?33
(as if afraid of me). He ascribes to God the rôle of a gaoler, and tells Him that it is not worth His while to trouble Himself about so insignificant a creature as man. It is making too much of a man to visit him every morning and try him every moment. Why not look away and leave the poor sufferer alone to swallow his spittle? Granting said sufferer was a sinner, was it worth God's while to play the gaoler over him? Better forgive his sin and so relieve Himself of the burden of keeping guard over His criminal, all the more that ere long the criminal will have gone the way of all the earth, and his jealous Watcher will not have the opportunity of pardoning him even if He should wish.34
In his second address35
Job waxes still more audacious. He declares that God has made up His mind to hold him, the sufferer, guilty, irrespective of the merits of his case. I know that Thou wilt not hold me innocent. I have
to be guilty (right or wrong); why then labour I in vain? If I should wash myself with snow-water, and make my hands ever so clean, yet shalt Thou plunge me in the ditch, and mine own clothes shall abhor me.36
He calls God an oppressor: Is it good unto Thee that Thou shouldest oppress, to reject the work of Thine hands and shine upon the counsel of the wicked?37
Again: If I sin, then Thou markest me, and Thou wilt not acquit me from mine iniquity. If I be wicked, woe unto me; and if I be righteous yet will I not lift up mine headThou wouldest hunt me as a fierce lion, redouble thine indignation against me, marshal host on host against me.38
In the third address39
the tone becomes more subdued. Still we hear defiant notes, as when, according to the true translation, the sufferer says: He may slay me, I expect nothing else, yet I will maintain mine own ways before Him.40
But Job's charge against God now is, not that He afflicts without cause, but that, assuming the penal nature of his sufferings, they are out of proportion to his sins. He asks: How many are mine iniquities that thou writest bitter things against me, and makest me inherit the sins of my youth?41
He is conscious of faults committed in bygone years, but he wonders that God should remember them so long, if it be indeed for them he is suffering.
Finally, Job abandons the tone of an accuser altogether, and ends his third address and the first cycle of debate with an elegiac strain of lamentation over the sinful, sorrowful, fleeting character of human life, whose subdued pathos is fitted to touch the heart both of God and of man. Who can read unmoved the chapter which begins: Man born of woman is of few days and full of trouble?42
Can we say that in all these speeches to and about God, Job sinned not with his lips? We cannot. Must we then admit that Satan has gained the wager, and that Job has been brought so far as to curse God? By no means. For the point at issue was not what Job, under the maddening influence of disease, would say about God, but whether he would continue to value virtue and a good conscience even after they had ceased to be profitable. Now that he did so continue, his very irreverences of speech conclusively demonstrate. Righteousness is of such unspeakable value to him that in defence of it he will put his back to the wall against the whole universe, even against God Himself. He will rather die, he will rather pronounce the government of the world an iniquity, than belie his good conscience, and say that he is wicked, because he is unhappy. He is not self-righteous. He is aware that he has done wrong, but he is also sure that he is not what is meant by a wicked man. He loves right, and he will not, to please God, or to make all His ways appear righteous, or to gratify men by homologating their theories, pretend that he does not. And in all this he unconsciously glorifies the great Being whom he seems to blaspheme, by showing himself to be the man God had represented him to be in the assembly of the sons of God, one, viz., to whom righteousness was the dearest thing in all the world.
But this is not all. There is an aspect of Job's bearing towards God which has not yet been looked at. In the very addresses in which we have found some very irreverent sentiments, Job expresses himself in a way which shows that in the depths of his soul he still trusts the God of whom he complains. He is divided against himself, and, corresponding to this war within his soul, there is a dualism in his representation of God. God is set against God, the God of appearance
against the God of reality
, the God of the present
against the God of the future
. This comes out even in the speeches of the first cycle, and it becomes more apparent as the debate goes on. Thus in his reply to Zophar he tells the friends that God will punish them for playing the part of special pleaders, even though it was in the divine interest. How could he more strongly express his belief that, in spite of appearances, God was just and would yet show Himself to be just in his cause? In the same speech he declares: Even He (God) shall be my salvation; for an hypocrite shall not come before Him.43
Having analysed with some minuteness the first cycle in the great debate, the other two need not occupy us long. Little new matter appears in the speeches of the friends. They repeat themselves as dogmatists are wont to do. There are the same exaggerated sentiments about God putting no trust in His servants, and about the heavens not being clean in His sight; the same appeals to antiquity in support of the theory advocated; the same laboured descriptions of the downfall of the wicked. The three friends have but one or two ideas in their head, on which they tiresomely ring the changes. They have theoretic blinders on, that prevent them from seeing all round. Job, on the other hand, having no blinders on, sees in all directions, never repeats himself, as the debate advances becomes ever more fertile in ideas; not an uncommon experience in the case of all who keep their minds open, and do not imagine they have got to the bottom of everything.
Another contrast reveals itself in these later discussions. The three visibly lose their temper, while the afflicted man, though fighting against odds, as if conscious that he is having the best of it, grows more and more calm and dignified in his tone. A slight ruffling of temper is manifest in the speeches of the friends in the second cycle, but it is avowed only by Zophar, who is the type of those hot-headed zealots who fight fiercely for the cause of truth, ostensibly, but whose zeal is largely the product of wounded vanity. He gratifies his irritated feelings by drawing a frightful picture of the awful end of the ungodly man, the hypocrite, by whom he means Job, which is effectively replied to by another picture in more life-like colours of wicked men prospering in all their ways, living to great age, spending their days in wealth, and going down to the grave without lingering disease, in a moment; men whose whole life said to God: Depart from us, for we desire not the knowledge of Thy ways.44
In the third cycle even Eliphaz loses command of himself, and in his anger at Job's obstinacy goes the length of charging him with horrible crimes without a particle of evidence, simply because the exigencies of theory required him. Thou hast taken a pledge from thy brother for nought, and stripped the naked of their clothing. Thou hast not given water to the weary to drink, and thou hast withholden bread from the hungry.45
When he began the debate, Eliphaz did not think so ill of his friend as to imagine him capable of these inhumanities. What will men not think and say of each other when they have got fairly involved in a religious controversy!
In Job's later speeches two things are specially noticeable: the sentiments he here utters concerning God, and his grand, triumphant, concluding oration.
There is discoverable progress in Job's theology. His sky is still stormy, but through the cloud-rack bright stars glimmer. The dealings of Providence with himself and with the world in general are still very incomprehensible to him. He cannot understand why God runs upon him like a giant, while there is no injustice in his hands and his prayer is pure,46
and he asks why the Almighty does not appoint legal terms for trying causes, so that good men may be encouraged with the prospect of judgment on sinners, but allows the ungodly to do as they please with impunityto remove landmarks, rob the poor, commit murder and adultery; in short, to break every commandment in the Decalogue.47
But while the God of appearances continues mysterious to him, his deep-seated faith in the God of reality grows in strength and clearness. He believes that somewhere
in the universe there must be One who can understand and sympathise with him. He has been utterly disappointed in his friends. Despairing of getting justice from men, he is driven, as a last resource, to the very Being who has smitten him, and to the upright light arises out of the very darkness. O earth, he exclaims with unspeakable pathos, cover not thou my blood, and let my cry have no place. Also now, behold, my witness is in heaven, and my record is on high. My friends scorn me, but mine eye poureth out tears unto God
Then he gives utterance to a very bold paradoxical thought, viz., that God will plead for the afflicted one even against Himself
, as one man might intercede for another. The real idea escapes in the Authorised Version, which runs: O that one might plead for a man with God, as a man pleadeth for his neighbour.49
What Job really says is: Mine eye weeps to God that he would decide for the man (himself) against God. The thought recurs a little further on: Lay down now (a price), be surety for me with Thyself, for who else will do me this service? Not the friends certainly, for, he adds, Thou hast hid their heart from understanding.50
The next bright star shining through the gloom of night is the famous passage: I know that my goël
According to the traditional interpretation Job expresses in explicit terms his faith in One who, many centuries after, came to redeem men from sin, and in the resurrection of the dead. Recent expositors of all schools doubt whether such a Christian meaning can fairly be extracted from the words. The general import is clear enough. The goël
, or redeemer, is God, and Job expects Him to appear for his vindication at some future time. The point on which opinion chiefly differs is whether the expected vindication is to be in this present life, or in a life beyond. That faith in a future existence should here make its appearance is not incredible. It would be another instance of a new hope springing out of despair. But we should be justified in imputing this new hope to Job only in case his words admitted of no other sense. This does not seem to be the fact. According to recent interpreters, the text can be translated with due regard to Hebrew idiom so as to eliminate all reference to a future life. The resulting sense is this: I know that my vindicator liveth, and that he shall stand as afterman (i.e.
as one having the last word, pronouncing final verdict) upon the earth: and from behind my skin, out of (i.e.
still in) the flesh, shall I see God. Whom I shall see favourable to me, mine eyes shall see, and not as a strangermy reins in my body sigh for it.52
Job waits for God as they that wait for the dawn. The winter night may be long, cold, dreary, but the dawn, he is sure, will come; come while he lives in his mortal body; come, bringing the divine word: Yes! Job My faithful servant is
Now we pass to the grand final charge with which our hard-pressed Hero, fighting single-handed, wins his Waterloo. Job's last speech is very long, filling six chapters.53
First he replies to the last word of his friends spoken by Bildad, consisting in a feeble repetition in a few sentences of the now trite commonplace: God is mighty; who can contend with Him? God is holy, even the stars are not pure in His sight: how much less man the worm!54
Job ironically compliments Bildad on the profundity and comprehensiveness of his speech, then launches forth into the praise of divine power and wisdom in a style far above Bildad's capacity, then announces to him and his two companions his fixed determinaation not to abandon his position: God forbid that I should justify you: till I die I will not remove mine integrity from me.55
Then follows a magnificent eulogium on Wisdom, as more difficult to be found, and more worthy to be sought after, than the precious metals men dig for in the earth, ending with the solemn announcement that this incomparably precious thing consists in fearing God and departing from evil;56
an announcement conclusively showing that in spite of his sufferings and his utter perplexity as to their cause, Job has no thought of bidding good-bye to piety, is indeed incapable of such a thought.
Then finally comes a sublime monologue in three parts: the first describing the lost felicity;57
the second vividly picturing present misery:58
sitting on a dunghill, wasting into dust, the sport of gipsy vagabonds whose fathers he would have disdained to set with the dogs of his flock; the third solemnly protesting innocence of any crime that could possibly account for such unparalleled woe, and depicting in minute detail the character of the bygone life in happier years.59
This self-depiction is of importance as a commentary on the brief characterisation at the beginning of the book: a man perfect and upright, that feared God and eschewed evil. Job, as described by himself, justifies this encomium. His righteousness is not pharisaical, but like that commended by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. He is chaste, not only in outward act but even in look and thought. He is just even to his slaves, remembering that in God's sight master and servant are on a level. He is merciful as well as just. He eats not his morsel alone, but gives the fatherless a share. The loins of the unclad poor bless the man who covered them with cloth made from the fleece of his sheep. He is no purse-proud, grasping mammon-worshipper, no idolater of gold as the summum bonum; still less an idolator in the common sense of the word. He has never cast a superstitious look at the sun by day, or at the full moon walking in brightness through the sky by night. He is not vindictive; he has never rejoiced at the fall of an enemy, or wished a curse upon his sons. He has attended to the duties of hospitality, never allowing the stranger to lodge in the street, ever opening his door to the traveller. He keeps open table, so that it seems a proverb: Who has not been satisfied with his flesh? Finally, he has not been a secret sinner, keeping up a fair appearance before men, from fear of the multitude and the contempt of families, and indulging private vices. At home and in the market he is the same man.
What, now, is the didactic significance of this solemn debate on Providence? Renan remarks that the genius of the poem lies in the indecision of the author on a subject where indecision is the truth.60
The observation is to a certain extent just. The writer is as far as possible from being a dogmatist, or from imagining that he has at last found the key that will open the mystery. Still, he is something more than a merely neutral listener to a discussion in which other men air their opinions. He has his bias. His sympathies, it is safe to say, are decidedly with Job. The transcendent power of Job's speeches, as compared with those of the other interlocutors, reveals not only the high-water mark of his poetic talent, but the secret source of his inspiration in passionate personal conviction. He indorses emphatically Job's position, and his main interest in writing his book probably was to establish it once for all. What, then, was that position? It was negative in form, but very important in import. Job dared to maintain that the theory so confidently contended for by the friends was unfounded. Relying on his moral sense, he is perfectly sure that a good man may suffer as he is suffering, and that any theory which denies this is false. Why such a man suffers he does not profess to know, but that he may suffer he regards as certain. As the proof of his thesis is drawn from his own experience he naturally states it, not with didactic calmness, but with much heat and passion. Hence the imputation of injustice to God. It is a way of putting the theorists in a corner, saying in effect: You teach that only the wicked suffer. I suffer, and I am not wicked; therefore your view is mistaken. The accusation brought against God of being an unrighteous judge has mainly argumentative value. The same remark applies to the suggestion that God uses His power to crush the weak without regard to the merits of their cause. What Job really asserts is the brutality of men who put him down with a cut-and-dried theory. Their behaviour appears to him to amount to the worship of power, and to making might right. His own idea of God rises far above that which would degrade Him into an almighty arbitrary despot. It finds its clearest expression in the great word: I know that my goël
liveth, which amounts to a declaration of belief that God would eventually indorse the self-estimate of the sufferer, and say that he was not wicked. That is all he expects from God: not restoration of prosperity, simply a verdict in his favour. The man who expects this believes that he already enjoys the divine approval, his calamities notwithstanding. And with this approval and that of his own conscience he is content. It is not indispensable to him to recover good fortune, however much he may appreciate it. He could, if need be, live and die a leper.61
Continuance of misery will not shake his faith, or imperil his moral integrity. He can and does serve God for nought. For the fear of God, wisdom, character, uprightness, is more in his esteem than any amount of material good. It is the summum bonum
. It is of priceless, incomparable worth; it cannot be valued with the gold of Ophir, with the priceless onyx, or the sapphire.62
This is a great advance on the time-honoured theory of Eliphaz and his brethren. It brings us to the borders of the New Testament. It may indeed seem as if the epilogue of the book of Job stood in the way of our ascribing to its author so enlightened a view. It is there stated that the Lord blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning. If the writer thought that necessary, was his theoretical position not essentially that of Job's friends? If he regarded the return of prosperity simply as an accidental fact vouched for by tradition, ought he not to have passed it over in silence, that there might be no doubt as to his attitude towards the theory of the Temanite? Or did he give to the tragic story of the man of Uz this pleasant ending simply as a good-natured concession to popular ideas, trusting that wise readers would take it for what it was worth? Or, finally, is the epilogue an editorial appendix for which the writer is not responsible, his last words being: The Lord also accepted Job?63
This is the critical problem of the epilogue, with possible solutions.
Good men, then, may suffer long, manifoldly, tragicallythat is a settled matter for the author. But why
do they suffer? What is the rationale of their affliction? That question stands over. Three kinds of answer are possible. First that there is no rationale, that the sufferings of men through such calamities as befell Job have no special significance, that they belong to the chances of life which overtake indifferently good and evil men alike. This view is hinted at by Job when he says: He destroyeth the perfect and the wicked.64
Next, it may be held that the sufferings of good men have a meaning, and that the meaning is to be found in their effect upon themselves by way of moral discipline or purification. This is the view advocated by Elihu.65
This interlocutor differs from his three friends in his judgment of the sufferer. He regards Job as a sincere, pious, but faulty man, and his sufferings he views as a chastisement sent by a gracious God for his spiritual improvement. Finally, it may be held that the sufferings of good men have a meaning, and that their highest meaning is to be found in their bearing on others. What if, e.g.
the rationale of such suffering should be to satisfy a sceptical world that there is such a thing as disinterested goodness? This is the view suggested in the prologue.
Such thoughts as these do occur in Job, whatever the relation of the author to them may be, and they are to be taken for what they are worth. But the question may legitimately be asked, To what extent does the writer make himself responsible for these views, what value does he set upon them? Perhaps the answer which comes nearest the truth is, that he regarded them all as worth stating, but accepted none of them as a complete or ultimate solution. He offers them simply as guesses at truth on a dark subject. The position of a preferred theory is claimed by some for the view propounded by Elihu.66
If, however, the honour of being spokesman for the author belongs to him, then it must be said that the author's grasp of the problem at issue is not so deep or so comprehensive as the power and boldness displayed in his work would lead us to expect. The theme is: the sufferings of the righteous, their reality and their rationale, and the supposed thesis: the righteous may suffer, even grievously; but they suffer because, though
righteous, they sin
, and their suffering is the divinely appointed means of their purification. This view is true so far as it goes, but it does not go to the root of the matter or cover the whole ground of the inquiry, To what extent and why do the righteous suffer? It says: A man may suffer though
righteous, because while righteous on the whole he is still sinful. But is there not such a thing as suffering for
righteousness; the more righteous the more suffering, the perfectly righteous one presumably the greatest sufferer of all? Think of the tribulations of a Jeremiah, for example. If, as is probable, these were known to our author, it is not credible that he could offer as the final word on the subject at issue: discipline, purification
. It is altogether too partial and shallow a solution.
The theory of the prologue goes much deeper. It contemplates the case of a man suffering for righteousness, not merely though righteous. The more righteous the man, the more urgent the demand for a testing experience. A sceptical Satan (or world) says: Yes, here are phenomenal piety and goodness; but see how prosperous is the state of this saint! Deprive him of his enviable fortune, and will not even he break down? It is the signal character of the virtue that makes the experiment worth trying. And it takes place, not for the sufferer's moral improvement, which is not much needed, but to silence doubt as to the reality of goodness.
The author of Job, it may be assumed, recognised in the representation of the prologue at least one point of view from which the sufferings of the, righteous might be contemplated. If he did, he could not have intended to offer Elihu's contribution as an exhaustive solution, or indeed as indicating anything higher than a secondary, subordinate use of affliction. The pregnant hint of the prologue directs attention to a service of much greater importance to the moral order, for which there is ever a need in this world. There are always plenty of people ready to play Satan's part, and to ask the sneering question: Doth Job fear God for nought? The ruling spirit of the world is selfishness, and the majority are sceptical as to the possibility of any man aiming at a higher end than personal advantage. How can this plausible lie be met? For the good of mankind, for the sake of all the higher interests of society, it is indispensable that it be conclusively refuted. How can this be done? Only by the noble-minded, who believe in something loftier than mere happiness, enduring suffering for their convictions. Persecutions must come. When they do come the sceptical, base-minded, self-seeking world is struck dumb. The accuser of the brethren is silenced and confounded when he sees how the white-robed army of martyrs scorn fear and face torture and death. They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death
It is to be noted that the sufferings which in the prologue are reported to have overtaken Job are not of the nature of persecutions. They are of an outward, accidental character, not such as arise directly out of the doing of righteousness, as in the case of Jeremiah, who was persecuted for the faithful fulfilment of his prophetic vocation. The afflictions of the prophet did not consist in the accidental loss of property, family, and health, but in misunderstanding, derision, illwill, the immediate inevitable effect of his moral fidelity. It is only in such a case as his that the idea of suffering for
righteousness reaches full realisation. It is not to be hastily supposed that the conception of this type of suffering had not risen above our author's mental horizon, even if we regard the prologue, not as a datum lying ready to his hand, but as a composition of his own. The afflictions of his hero are skilfully adapted to the simple conditions of life in ancient times, and to popular capacities in all times. An experience like that of Jeremiah could hardly occur in a patriarchal age, and if it did, its lessons could not easily be made generally intelligible. But there is more than this to be said. The sufferings of Job correspond to the theory which it is the object of the book bearing his name to criticise. The theory assumed that piety and prosperity must go together. The criticism consists in showing that piety and prosperity must sometimes be dissociated, if it were only to let piety have an opportunity for evincing its sincerity.68
An experience like that of Job could alone serve that purpose. Jeremiah's experience could be turned to higher account. The fifty-third chapter of Isaiah reads its peculiar lesson.
Is there any trace of that lesson in the book of Job? There is, and, strange to say, it is found in the last speech of Eliphaz, where, speaking of the good Job might do by his repentance, he says: He (Job) shall deliver the not-innocent (that is, the guilty); he (the guilty) shall be delivered by the pureness of thine hands.69
Eliphaz seems to ascribe a vicarious merit to the righteousness of a saint purified from sin by the fires of affliction. It is remarkable that at the close of the book this stray thought of the Temanite finds actual fulfilment. The function and influence of an intercessor are assigned to the much-tried man of God, and Eliphaz himself gets the benefit of Job's mediation. Here again is an anticipation of Christian thought. The book of Job, for as dark as it seems, and in many respects is, yet touches the New Testament here and there in sudden flashes of insight, and surprisingly adventurous turns of thought.