There is practically little new in this second series of the friends' addresses. Indeed, the principle to which they were committed gave little room for new or wider thoughts. They could only reiterate their contention, cite the teachings of others and their own experience and observation,with varied, true and beautiful illustrations drawn from many sources. But the narrowness of their view vitiates all they say, for they are seeking to reach a conclusion entirely contrary to facts. We need not wonder therefore that the discussion loses the courtesy which to some extent marked its beginning, and takes on more the character of threatening and denunciation. They will make up in vehemence and brutality what they lack in proof; they will crush Job by the weight of their charges, and in this way vindicate their own attitude. It is noteworthy also that the appeal to God has less the ring of sincerity and of applicability in it. There is no progress, and each plows in the furrow made by his predecessor.
We may note also that no promises are held out to Job, as at the first, upon his repentance. In their eagerness to convict him they seem to lose sight of a possible recovery. And if the element of hope is wanting, what is left is So their charges but tend to produce despair.
While they all follow the same line of thought, the individuality of each speaker is apparent. Eliphaz enlarges upon the principle that God surely punishes the evil-doer in this life: Bildad emphasizes this without even a semblance of argument; while Zophar with his accustomed vehemence depicts the inevitable doom of the wicked in spite of short-lived prosperity.
On the other hand Job meets each one on his own ground, and gives scorn for scorn, stroke for stroke, charge for charge. In addition, he enlarges upon the anomaly of his unspeakable sufferings in connection with his reiterated innocence. He not only charges his friends with hardness and impiety, but cannot hide the awful fact from himself that God is against him. It is this that burns in his soul — the suspicion that God is not good and just.
And yet the faint flashes of faith we have already seen, break out here into brighter hope. The very fact that he appeals to God, bringing his doubts and fears to Him, shows that faith has not failed, and cannot. Therefore we find here the noble outburst, which has expressed the faith of the saints of all ages — "I know that my Redeemer liveth."
Yet Job's enigma is not solved, and the dark shadow of death looms before him, with little to cheer. But we must not anticipate.
The section falls, as the first, into three parts, the address of each friend with Job's reply.
1. Eliphaz: the inevitable judgment of the wicked in this life. Job's reply (Job 15-17).
2. Bildad: the sure doom of the wicked. Job's reply (Job 18, 19).
3. Zophar: the certain and terrible doom of the wicked, in spite of short-lived prosperity. Job's reply (Job 20, 21).
1. Eliphaz's Address
As already remarked, Eliphaz loses in this second address the measure of courtesy and hopefulness he had shown at first. We may divide what he says into 5 parts:
(1) Job self-condemned (Job 15; 1-6).
(2) Is he wiser or better than others? (vers. 7-13).
(3) The holiness of God (vers. 14-16).
(4) The experience of the wicked (vers. 17-24).
(5) Their retribution (vers. 25-35).
(1) Is it wisdom, he asks, for one who presumes to be wise, to pour out empty words like a blast of the east wind — a dry, withering thing? Job had indeed laid himself open to the charge of casting off fear, in his intemperate language, which was the opposite of prayer or devotion. His own words, says Eliphaz, confirm the suspicions and charges of the friends — of wickedness and impiety. But in accusing Job of craftiness, he charges what is untrue; for the poor sufferer had poured out his wretchedness with no regard for consequences. Whatever he is, Job is no hypocrite.
(2) He next challenges Job: Where has he gained superior wisdom to them? Has he been in the secret counsel of God from the beginning, before the earth and hills were made? Only divine Wisdom, the eternal Son, could claim such a relation to God as that (Prov. 8). As for Job, he is like themselves, only with less experience than many to whom Eliphaz could appeal. Being no wiser than others, why does he refuse the "consolations of God" which these friends were ministering to him? It certainly requires a stretch of imagination to call their galling words — like vinegar upon nitre — by such a tender term. The second part of this verse should probably reiterate the first, "And the word gently spoken to thee?" Why, he asks, does Job's eyes flash the rebellion of his wayward heart, instead of bowing to the charges of the friends? This he reckons as turning from God — a charge of heresy against one who does not bow to his inquisitors — which is common enough.
(3) Eliphaz repeats the statement of his first address as to the holiness of God (Job 4:17-19). Truly none is like unto Him in whose presence the seraphim veil their faces, as they cry, "Holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts." If the very heavens are unclean in His sight, how much less is mortal sinful man! But is not Eliphaz one of these, as well as the poor sufferer? Why then apply it to Job as though it proved him a sinner above all others? This, surely, is more like crafty speech than all the hot utterances of Job. Let Eliphaz take his place beside Job and confess that he too is "abominable and filthy." The poor sufferer might have responded to that.
(4) Eliphaz next takes the familiar ground of experience and observation, calling to his aid those wise men whose freedom from foreign admixture made them especially authoritative. This wisdom, he assures Job, has discovered the wretchedness of the wicked. A sword, as of Damocles, ever hangs over their guilty head; even in outward prosperity the dreadful knell of doom sounds in their ear. The evil man has no hope of escaping the darkness; while he seeks his food, he expects the blow to fall — the "king of terrors" will smite him. Is Eliphaz trying to terrify Job, or is it an echo of the distant fears of his own heart?
(5) He concludes the dreadful picture with a narration of the retributive consequences of awful impiety. This imaginary wicked person had stretched out his hand against the Almighty; with stiff neck, and thick bosses of wickedness as a shield,dared to defy God! He had enjoyed the temporary good things of life, his eyes stood out with fatness, he had lived in houses marked for desolation without a thought of change, but his substance fails, the darkness falls, the fire reaches him, and he perishes at the breath of God! Fearsome picture indeed — and he thinks he is describing Job! We might say he is subjecting the poor distracted sufferer to the "third degree" of probing and accusation to make him cry out for very terror. He lingers over the picture: Let the wicked not trust in vanity, for it shall be his recompense. His branch shall wither, his fruit shall be cast off, hypocrisy and bribery shall receive their appointed penalty!
Could anyone but an innocent man stand up under the awful thunder of such denunciation? Were Job the man they have determined him to be, he must be crushed beneath the dreadful avalanche. But what has he to answer?
Two things strike us in his answer to Eliphaz: First, nothing that has been said has touched Job's conscience, and this accounts for his moral indignation against his accusers. Second, he is so occupied with his relationship to God that other things are of minor importance. This shows the reality of the man's faith — he must understand God. This indeed is the main theme of the entire book — the vindication of God's ways and of His holiness in dealing with men.
We may divide this reply, as we did the address of Eliphaz, into five parts:
(1) He reproaches them for their heartlessness (Job 16:1-5).
(2) Under the wrath of God and the hatred of man (vers. 6-14).
(3) He appeals to God in it all (vers. 15-22).
(4) The experience of bitter trial (Job 17:1-12).
(5) The dark outlook toward the grave (vers. 13-16).
(1) Eliphaz had spoken of their addresses to Job (of that part, doubtless, which promised restoration upon repentance) as "the consolations of God;" Job characterizes them as "miserable comforters." Is there to be no end of windy words? Had the friends not exhausted their stock of accusations? What stirs up Eliphaz to speak further, with nothing new to say? Job himself could easily treat them after their fashion, were conditions reversed; but he would on the contrary have sought to impart consolation.
The friends had certainly laid themselves open to this rebuke. They have violated all the God-given safeguards of friendship, had given the lie to all their former confidence, and treated Job as a stranger of whom they knew nothing, and whose past life could only be deduced from his present condition. It was indeed an outrage upon the name of friendship, and we can well sympathize with the disappointment and indignation of Job at such treatment. His life had been lived before them in all uprightness, and now to be accused by them of hypocrisy was bitter indeed. How cruel is the goading of conscience under a false principle!
If we turn to another Sorrow, compared with which Job's anguish was as nothing, what do we find there but meekness, patience, confidence in God, in the face of bitter enmity from those who "laid things to my charge which I knew not;" "who when He was reviled, reviled not again; when He suffered, He threatened not, but committed Himself to Him that judgeth righteously." In this, as in all else, there is none like Him.
(2) Turning to God, in whom he should have found abundant consolation, Job charges Him as the author of his misery and suffering, But his complaint and hot words give him no relief. "Thou hast made desolate all my company," or household. His emaciated body he counts as evidence of the wrath of God which tears him as would a beast! Truly, Job does not measure his words. He sees only bitter suffering inflicted without cause, and is unwilling or unable to trust God in the dark. This is Job's great error, and linked with it a protestation of righteousness as if he deserved credit for that. Here lies something to be probed into, which all the insinuations and charges of his friends cannot touch. How can the root of this trouble be reached?
In his blind misery Job links the scoffs of the ungodly, glad at his calamity, with the hand of God. It is difficult in these words of Job to separate between God and evil men; in his blurred view they are all acting together. What awful language to use of God: "He hath also taken me by my neck and shaken me to pieces" — like a wild beast rending its prey, or a mighty giant running upon a puny victim to destroy it.
Let us read the account of our Lord's sufferings at the hands of man and of God, and we find no confusing of the two, nor any charging God with evil. "Many bulls have compassed me: strong bulls of Bashan have beset me round. They gaped upon me with their mouths, as a ravening and a roaring lion . . . My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and Thou hast brought me into the dust of death. For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have enclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet . . . But be not Thou far from me, O Lord: O my strength, haste Thee to help me" (Ps. 22:12-19). God had been His trust from infancy; His soul still rested upon His goodness and righteousness when all the waves and billows of judgment rolled over Him.
"Oh, what a load was Thine to bear,
Alone in that dark hour
Our sins in all their terror there,
God's wrath and Satan's power."
Let everything go — man's favor, life itself, and the smile of God — out of the gloom and thick blackness of God's forsaking we hear a cry reaching to the throne of the Eternal, "THOU ART HOLY." Blessed be God for One who, while suffering thus for us, did not swerve from perfect trust in Him who had forsaken Him for our sakes.
(3) Poor Job fails to see God in His unchanging love through all these sufferings, and each pang he endures, every tear he sheds, all the humiliation to which he is subjected, is a fresh charge against God. And yet, not altogether, for there is real faith in his heart. While he would let his blood cry for vengeance like Abel's, he instinctively knows there is a just God in heaven who has the record of his life, to whom he can appeal against the false charges of his friends. He knows, not fully, for He has not yet seen, that there is One who pleads for him before God. What he longs for, we know that we have — One that pleads for us with God as a man pleads for his neighbor. We know a High Priest who is touched with the feeling of our infirmities, who "ever liveth to make intercession for us."
But the very fact that Job longs for such an intercessor shows the faith hidden in his soul, which will soon say, "I know that my Redeemer liveth." Meanwhile he looks down to the grave, without a pause for God to speak to him.
(4) He is marked for death, his very breath declares the corruption for which the grave yawns; and "friends" stand by and mock!
In the next verse (Job 17:3), Job turns from man to God. Men are ignorant and mere flatterers who cannot be trusted — or, as it has been rendered, "He who giveth his friends for spoil, the eyes of his children shall languish." Thus he threatens his friends for their disloyalty.
Again he mars his testimony by charging his misery upon God as well as man, and declaring that upright persons are stumbled by his sufferings. However, in spite of all, Job keeps on his steadfast way. In relation to the assault of the friends, however, there is a tone of self-complacency which is not exactly suitable to the truly lowly. Verse 10 seems to be a challenge to continue their assaults, since they utterly fail in the discernment which marks the wise. They are holding out light to him, if penitent, while he is drawing ever nearer to death.
(5) His face is now turned toward the gloom of death,with scant gleam of hope of anything beyond. Evidently his spirit has not yet found rest, and victory is not yet his. But, unlike the friends, he sometimes has his face in the right direction, and were his mouth but closed long enough to hear God speaking to him, he would see the full deliverance which comes to those who justify the Lord.
But how doleful are his thoughts; he is related to corruption and the worm, and hope finds little that is congenial amid such dark and gruesome surroundings.
2. Bildad's Second Address, and Job's Reply. (Job 18, 19.)
The principal difference between Bildad's address and that of Eliphaz is the brevity of the former. He follows the lead of Eliphaz largely, but in a manner all his own. His address abounds in beautiful poetic imagery and true declarations as to the inevitable doom of the wicked; but it is beside the mark in that it utterly fails to establish any relation between Job and the wicked whose end he so graphically describes. His address may be divided into six portions, the last being a brief concluding word.
(1) Fresh reproach (Job 18:1-3).
(2) The sure doom of the wicked (vers. 4-7).
(3) A snare falls upon him (vers. 8-11).
(4) Disease and death his portion (vers. 12-15).
(5) Root and branch dried up (vers. 16-19).
(6) The end of his day (vers. 20, 21).
(1) As usual in the later speeches, the address opens with a reproach, indicating the absence of the courtesy which marked the first address of Eliphaz. Bildad, who is quite moderate in the length of his speeches, accuses Job of multiplying words, and of being so full of talk that he will not listen to others. It is noteworthy that Bildad addresses Job as if others were associated with him: "How long will ye hunt for words?" as verse 2 has been rendered. This does not necessarily mean that others were directly associated with Job at that time and place, but he is looked upon as the representative of the whole class of those who would question the position of the friends. But, as we know, Job, at least in his opposition to their contention, was maintaining the truth: we may think of him as standing at the head of that great company of the righteous who have passed through deep suffering without any apparent reason. If Job had used strong language, there had been great provocation in the charges of the friends.
(2) Taking up his charges, Bildad reminds Job that all his lamentations are unavailing: he is only tearing himself in vain rage — a most unkind description of the laments of the afflicted man. He goes on to tell him that all his cries will not change the fixed order of the earth; it will not become desolate for his sake, nor will the stable rock of retribution for evil be moved out of its place. The light of the wicked may burn brightly for a little while, as Job's had done, but it would be put out. The light of home, with its beckoning attraction, would vanish. His vigorous steps would begin to falter, and he would fall by his own evil counsel.
When we remember that by implication all this referred to Job, we can imagine how galling it was to his bruised spirit. It was painful enough to lose all he once had, and have the bright light quenched which once glowed in his hospitable tent; but to have this, and the inroads of the dread disease which was gnawing at his vitals and sapping his strength, cited as proof of his wickedness, was intolerable to human nature. It is as though he were saying, "Now we have found you out; you are reaping the fruit of your sin, and all this misery is a visitation from God for your wickedness."
(3) It is this retribution that Bildad enlarges upon, using imagery whose pungency would burn like salt upon raw flesh. He tells him that the wicked is driven into the net by his own feet,whose perverse ways carry him into those paths whose end is destruction. True, he was stating a solemn fact as to the wicked, but it remained to be proved that Job was such. He declares that, all unknown to himself, the wicked walked over a snare which would take him when he least expected it: "The wicked is snared in the works of his hands." Repeating this with painful reiteration, Bildad assures Job of the certainty of the heel being caught in a trap, of a noose encircling him, as verse 9 has been rendered. The snare, skilfully covered in the earth, is ready for him; the net in his path is ready to enclose him as an unwary bird. No wonder that terrors affrighted him on every side, and fill him with dread at every step. Bildad selected words rich in poetic imagery, to force upon Job — what is untrue!
(4) But the captivity of the wicked will not satisfy the stern denouncer of evil; he must smite even unto death. So in this portion he traces the misery of the evil-doer until he falls into the jaws of death. His ' calamity," as the word is rendered, preferably to "strength," is represented as a beast with hunger gnawing at it, ready to pounce upon him as he falls. Surely Job had felt this in the calamities which had come upon him. In the following verses there is even a closer description of the miseries of the afflicted patriarch. Calamity devoured the various parts of his skin, and "the first-born of death" (a solemn and poetic description of the bodily disease which devoured Job) devours his members, and leads him on to death, "the king of terrors." Strangers inhabit his tent, and brimstone the final judgment of God — is showered upon his abode. It has been thought that in this last we have an allusion to "the fire of God" which fell upon Job's property, and the destruction of his family. But at any rate, the general meaning of fierce judgment is apparent.
(5) Bildad next describes the overthrow of the evil man's family, or rather of himself and family. Changing the metaphor, as he had already done, from the snares of various kinds to the extinguishing of the light in a home, he now likens the evil man to a tree, whose root withers in the parched land of his affliction, and the branches are lopped off — as the cutting off of Job's children. All this is scripturally accurate. Does not the Psalmist say, "I have seen the wicked . . . spreading himself like a green bay tree. Yet he passed away, and lo, he was not" (Ps. 37:35, 36); and, "Cursed be the man . . . whose heart departeth from the Lord. For he shall be like the heath in the desert" (Jer. 17:5, 6). As repeatedly said, the fault lies in the application of such words to a man whose life gave the lie to their insistent charges of flagrant wickedness. Pursuing his theme, Bildad declares that name and remembrance shall fail the evil man — "the memory of the wicked shall rot" — he is driven off into darkness and none of his kin shall escape the disaster. Here is a sharp thrust at the bereaved parent, which must have made him wince with pain, though not in guilt.
(6) With this parting stab, Bildad closes his speech, reserving as a conclusion the declaration that all behold the fall of the wicked, both east and west (rather than "those who went before" and "come after") and be filled with dread. Thus are the wicked recompensed.
No matter how greatly pained he might be at the cruel language of Bildad, Job's reply does not indicate the slightest consciousness of guilt such as had been laid at his door. Indeed, as ever, he more than holds his own against the sharp lash of calumny, and with far more justice than his friends charges them with cruelty and malignity. He defies them to show any evil in him, and goaded on by their implacable theory (which had also been his own), boldly charges God with having wronged him. He is the object of divine cruelty and of human scorn. And yet it is wonderful to see the poor crushed spirit rise from the dust in those words of faith and hope, "I know that my Redeemer liveth." There is a most pathetic, though futile appeal to the friends for pity. But we must look at each part in more detail. The response in its six parts balances the address of Bildad.
(1) Reproach (Job 19:1-6).
(2) God's hand (vers. 7-11).
(3) The scorn of man (vers. 12-20).
(4) The plea for pity (vers. 21-24).
(5) The triumph of faith (vers. 25-27).
(6) The close (vers. 28, 29).
(1) We must take Job's words as literally true: the speeches of Bildad and the others crushed him by their cruel severity. "Ten times" — a complete number — they had heaped reproaches upon him, and had amazed him by the unjust charges they had shamelessly made against him. What proof had they of sins in his past? If he had really erred, the secret lay in his own bosom, where they had no right to intrude. They goad him on to declaring, as he had already done, that the wrong was not his but God's! It is this root of suspicion of the Almighty which must be searched out; but these men's false charges will never accomplish that.
(2) There follows now a fearful arraignment of God. Well is it for Job that he is accusing infinite patience, or he might have had a real taste of divine anger. But God bears with it all, waiting His own time to bring the poor distracted man into His own holy presence. Job cries out for judgment and help, but no answer is vouchsafed. God had hedged him about, as he had previously charged, and as Jeremiah in his lamentations had complained. He had brought him into darkness, had torn his honor from him, and dashed the crown of dignity from his head. Like an uprooted tree, he lay prostrate and helpless under the fierce wrath of God.
(3) Passing to man, Job sees the same injustice, which by implication is from God. It is His troops who beset him. His own brethren have forsaken him; kinsfolk have forgotten him. His very slaves look upon him as a stranger, and even to his own servant he is obliged to address words of persistent entreaty before he will be heard. Worst of all, the wife of his bosom recoils from the foul stench of his person. Boys mock him, friends abhor him. His bones cleave to his skin, and he has barely escaped death thus far, as by the skin of his teeth; that is, everything is eaten away except the slight covering about their roots. It is a dreadful picture of a horrid disease, unutterably sad when we remember that he could not turn to God for comfort.
(4) The plea for pity and sympathy might well move hearts of adamant, but apparently Job's words fall on unheeding ears. It was their contention that God's hand had been upon him — for his sin. Job asks, will they persecute him as God was doing (awful charge!), and madly feed upon his flesh with unsatisfied desire? Such injustice renders him almost frantic. He longs that his words (charging them — and God) were written, indelibly engraved in the rock forever.
And then, in the midst of all these lamentations, he utters those magnificent words of faith: "I know that my Redeemer liveth." But this was the very God whom he was just now charging with injustice! How good it is to see Job's faith amid all this turmoil, turning to the very One whom he was maligning! Truly these — not his own protestations of innocence — are words worthy of being graven upon the enduring rock. This Redeemer, this Daysman, shall rise for him, though it be in the last days, after his death.
Here, then, we have a glimpse of the blessed Lord whom we know — not as One who shall arise, but who has already triumphed over death and the grave. He has vindicated us, not from the impugnment of an imagined righteousness, but from sins of deepest dye, and enabled us to say, "Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect? "
(5) In the following words commentators have found varying meanings, according to their translation. We may resolve these into two: Does Job say, "In my flesh I shall see God," or "From (away from) my flesh I shall see God?" In other words, does he declare his belief in a spiritual disembodied condition after death, in which he will behold God and get his vindication? Or does he plainly state his conviction of the truth of a literal bodily resurrection? While the New Testament clearly teaches the spiritual consciousness of those who are out of the body — "To depart to be with Christ,which is far better" — yet it ever points forward to the resurrection of the body, in glory and incorruption. The words of David, prophesying the resurrection of our Lord, "Thou wilt not suffer thy Holy One to see corruption," show that the resurrection of the body was foretold before the advent of our Lord upon earth.
Does not Job speak here of beholding the Lord with his own eyes, and does not this necessitate a resurrection? It does not seem that he was looking for the Redeemer to act for him in this present life, but after his death — in a glorified body. Thus, as has been beautifully said, "he plants the flag of victory upon his own grave."
We leave the statement of his faith therefore as we find it in our Authorized Version, a beautiful and clear confession of the truth of a risen, living Redeemer, who will also restore his poor corrupted body into a glorified one in which he will behold God face to face, and learn the secret of all his sorrows here. Surely a man with such faith must overcome in the end, for "This is the victory that overcometh . . . even our faith."
(6) He turns therefore to his friends and asks why they should persecute one in whom this living, indestructible root of faith is found. Rather, he tells them, they should ask themselves the reason for their implacable pursuit of him. His reply to Bildad, about the same length as the words that called it forth, he closes with a solemn warning lest they fall under the stroke which they vainly imagined was laying him low.
We may safely leave these addresses side by side to speak for themselves. In the light of all that has been before us, can we doubt that the moral advantage has been with Job?
3. — Zophar's Second Address and Job's Reply. (Job 20, 21.)
There is, as already noticed, an intensity in Zophar that gives a distinct character to his words. He fiercely denounces evil, leaving no room for doubt that he refers to Job, and depicts the certain doom of the wicked in language whose very vehemence soon exhausts what he has in mind. This seems to be the reason why he concludes all he has to say with this second address. The fiercer the fire, the more quickly it burns out. All that he says is true; his own unpardonable error is that he seeks to apply it to a righteous man. This address may be divided into seven parts; the last is but a concluding word.
(1) Brief triumph of the wicked (vers. 1-5).
(2) He is soon cut off (vers. 6-11).
(3) Poisoned with his own venom (vers. 12-16).
(4) Past prosperity unavailing (vers. 17-20).
(5) Retribution (vers. 21-25).
(6) Abiding wrath (vers. 26-28).
(7) Conclusion (ver. 29).
(1) Zophar springs to the reply, as a young man would, feeling that he had abundant thoughts to meet all Job's statements, and convict him of the wickedness they charged upon him. He is not the first man who has mistaken vehemence for argument, and whose haste to express his feelings is an indication of poverty of thought rather than the weight of truth. He seems prepared for reproach, which Job's past answers lead him to expect, but is impelled by his knowledge to make one more attempt to silence Job. As a matter of fact, wounded pride may be the real reason for his eagerness to speak.
He now lays down the fact upon which he rests all he has to say. It is a well-known truth, he declares, known from the time man has been upon the earth: "The triumphing of the wicked is short, and the joy of the hypocrite (or evil-doer) is but for a moment." There is both truth and error in this statement. Cain was not cut off immediately after the murder of his brother. On the contrary, his life was spared by God, and he settled down in the world with a city and a numerous progeny. Similarly, the men before the flood prolonged their days in the enjoyment of their pleasures, possessions and inventions. It is so to this day. How often does the wicked seem to prosper, even to old age.
On the other hand, sin naturally tends to shorten life. "Bloody and deceitful men shall not live out half their days." Excesses bring their own consequences, and violence often brings down the arm of human vengeance upon its head. Besides this, God makes examples of evil men, especially those professedly under His government. Korah, Dathan and Abiram are an instance of this in the Old Testament, and Ananias and Sapphira in the New.
But this is not the universal, nor even the ordinary rule. Many evil men go on for years in outward prosperity, and pass, with little apparent change, to their account in another world. There is no intimation that the "rich man" in Luke 16 was cut off early because of his sins. God varies His dealings with men, that in every possible way they may be left without excuse: swift judgment, prolonged patience, chastening and prosperity have all been tried, if men may by any means be led to repentance. The apostle sums it up thus: "Some men's sins are open beforehand, going before to judgment; and some men they follow after" (1 Tim. 5:24). Our Lord rebukes the tendency to regard sudden death as a mark of special sin (Luke 13:1-5).
We would therefore conclude that Zophar was putting a part for the whole, and to that degree his statement was faulty. Job indeed in his reply calls attention to this. So anxious, however, are the "friends" to make good their case, that they do not scruple at extreme and unfair statements, which become positively evil when applied to the grief of a man not proved guilty. We shall find that this tendency culminates in the last speech of Eliphaz in direct and specific charges of evil without the slightest foundation.
(2) Zophar proceeds with his picture poetic but dreadfully stern; solemnly beautiful, if we can forget his purpose. The course of the sinner is further dwelt upon, and his end contrasted with his ambitions. His hopes may have risen to the heavens, his head to the clouds, in imagination, but he is consumed away like fuel stored up for the winter. The well-known custom in the East of preparing the dung of cattle for this purpose, explains the figure here used. Men will miss him, and ask in vain, Where is he? As a passing dream of the night he is gone; the eyes that once looked on him behold him no more. His ill-gotten gains are given, reluctantly enough, we may well believe, by his children to the poor. His bones, once full of youthful vigor (as suggested in the revised translation), are now laid low in their parent dust. The section begins with heaven and ends with the grave! Such is the downward path of those who know not God.
(3) Nor is the reason for this dreadful conclusion of the life of the wicked far to seek. He has but himself to blame, and is reaping what he sowed. The poison comes from his own vitals. In a few strokes the speaker draws a dreadful picture of the sinful man, who, gorging himself with sinful pleasures, hidden and cherished beneath his tongue, is like the venomous serpent, preparing the deadly virus which shall bring death to him. His riches, evilly acquired, will be torture to his closing days. Truly, all this is solemnly true. God is not arbitrary in the punishment of the wicked; they treasure up "wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God." The "good things" received by the rich man, instead of leading him to gratitude and faith, were used for his own gratification — away from God — and thus did but return to torture him with remorse. "Son, remember," shows where the thoughts must turn when there is no further opportunity to hide from the consequences of his own acts. As has been pointed out, the name "Gehenna" is from a root, "to be freely given" — "gratuitous," it might be rendered. How wickedly vain is the talk about God being "too merciful to send men to hell:" — men show no mercy to themselves; they have only themselves to blame for their doom. All this is accentuated by the fact that infinite love has provided a "gratuitous" remedy, which is rejected by so many.
(4) Zophar next glances at the former prosperity of the wicked, when he quaffed the draught of pleasure as from an overflowing river of honey and cream. What was grasped from others, must now be given up, and his riches can bring him no joy. Like Ahab, who came down to see the vineyard acquired by the murder of Naboth, and had to hear his own doom pronounced by the prophet, he can get no joy from his possession. The unfinished house he took remains as a monument of his crime; he cannot even take his most cherished belongings with him.
Zophar is indeed an expert in describing evil and its results. It will be noted that the wickedness described is largely violations of the second part of the law, particularly in regard to dishonesty and violence. Much that he hints at here is directly charged by Eliphaz against Job. The friends thus strengthen one another in their determination to establish their theory that Job is the wicked hypocrite they depict, suffering for his own misdeeds.
(5) The thought of retribution is enlarged upon in this portion. Covetousness means an ultimate ruin; the very ones he oppressed (the "needy," rather than the "wicked," ver. 22) shall be arrayed against him. And, above all, God shall pour forth the fury of His wrath upon him, like the fiery rain that fell upon Sodom. Seeking to flee from the weapon of iron, he is pierced by the more deadly arrow; "As if a man did flee from a lion, and a bear met him; . . . and leaned his hand on the wall, and a serpent bit him" (Amos 5:19). With unerring precision the shaft pierces the vitals of the terror-stricken man, and there is no escape.
(6) This doom is final, with no gleam of hope beyond. The sinner has laid up a treasure of "wrath against the day of wrath;" and unquenchable fire, which needs no "blowing upon" to add to its fierceness, consumes him, and those he leaves behind taste the same fire. The heavens are against him; their holy light only reveals his iniquity. Job had appealed to heaven and earth to witness to his righteousness (Job 16:18, 19), but Zophar hints the absolute reverse — the heavens do but declare his sin, and earth rises up in the judgment against him. He concludes his fearful picture with the mention of divinely appointed wrath.
(7) "This is the portion of a wicked man from God, and the heritage appointed to him by God" (ver. 29). Zophar has completed his terrible charges. He has pursued without pity a bruised and apparently dying man. He has refused the appeal of Job for pity, has ignored the declaration of his unshaken integrity, and has pressed his suspicion with an iron hand into the soul of the poor sufferer, and all this under the specious plea of piety pleading for God! However it may end, we feel that no help is to be got from Zophar and those like him, and we do not regret that we shall hear him no more until he comes in a very different spirit to ask the prayers of the friend whom he has maligned.
While our sympathy goes out to Job for the treatment he is receiving at the hands of his friends, there is abundant evidence in his replies that he is quite able to answer for himself, so far at least as men are concerned. He meets each of the speakers on his own ground and silences him. In this reply to Zophar he shows that his spirit is still unbroken, and answers with conclusiveness the semblance of arguments which he had presented. Job's reply, following the form of Zophar's address, may be divided into seven portions:
(1) The solemnity of his reply, which has to do with God (Job 21:1-6).
(2) The prosperity of the wicked (vers. 7-16).
(3) Judgment seen only in their children (vers. 17-21).
(4) Varied experiences of the wicked (vers. 22-26).
(5) He charges the friends (vers. 27-31).
(6) The end in death (vers. 32, 33).
(7) Conclusion (ver. 34).
(1) He begins with a plea that at least they will listen to him. This will at least take the place of the consolation which they refuse to give him. After that they can resume their taunts. For himself, he says he has ceased to expect any right judgment from man; and well he might if that were all his hope. This implies that he has turned to God, which is in itself an indication of the faith at the bottom of his heart. But his difficulties have not vanished; they may well be astonished, for he himself trembles to speak of what he is now going to lay before them, and it disproves much that which Zophar had just so eloquently set forth. It will be noted, here, that the tone of querulousness is absent from this dignified opening of Job. He propounds his difficulty to his friends, and if they are men they must see his point.
(2) He looks at the other side, at the case of the prosperous wicked, and with ability equal to Zophar's, reminds him that evil men often go on unchecked. They live to old age and become mighty in power. Their families grow up about them, and all abides in quietness without the rod of God falling upon them. Flocks and herds increase; his children — in sad contrast to the now childless speaker — are like a group of lambs skipping about the home, and in it is heard the sound of timbrel and harp and pipe. All their days are in prosperity until the end comes, although these very men said to God, "Depart from us, for we desire not the knowledge of thy ways." Like Pharaoh, they ask, "What is the Almighty that we should serve Him, and what profit should we have if we pray unto Him?" While describing their profane defiance of God, which goes so long unrebuked, Job is careful to express his abhorrence of such impiety: "Lo, their good is not by their own hand" (all that they have is from God); "the counsel of the wicked is far from me" (ver. 16). All this is true, and bears out the teaching of Psalm 73, where one is under exercise similar to his own.
(3) In this part Job fully admits that there will be a final manifestation of the sin of the wicked, but it is so often seen in the children instead of themselves; and what do they care for their house after them? (ver. 21). In opposition to Zophar, he reminds him "how rarely is the candle of the wicked put out," as ver. 17 has been rendered; how seldom does calamity break in upon them, as the scatterings of "snares" or "lightnings" in the wrath of God. While it is true, as the psalmist tells us, that the ungodly are "like the chaff which the wind driveth away" (Ps. 1:4), Job reminds his hearers that this seldom takes place in the present life; it is reserved for the "judgment." The two following verses, 19, 20, state the facts (which are put in the form of a desire in another rendering), that God layeth up the iniquity of the wicked for the children, "visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children." He shall eventually see the result of his evil, though the day is long deferred.
(4) In fact, as Job goes on to show, the experiences of the wicked are varied, and he adds, Who shall sit in judgment upon God for these varied dealings? One dies quietly in the midst of abounding prosperity, as the psalm says, "The wicked have no bands in their death;" another is cut off in wretchedness. Both alike reach a common end in the grave. And this being the case, how ill it becomes his friends to state, as an unvarying rule, that judgment in this life was always a sign of sin, and prosperity of righteousness, in the persons affected. Although he himself had reached no solution to his problem, he could at least urge his friends to "judge nothing before the time."
(5) He now declares their purpose, which they have only hinted at hitherto, that Job was an instance of the soundness of their contention; and see, say they, what has become of him! He throws back their insinuations by the bold question, Have they not learned from observers everywhere that the wicked is "spared" in the day of calamity (not "reserved," as in our version), "to the day of destruction"? And so powerful is he that none dare charge his sin to him, or inflict deserved punishment — all this, alas, only too common in our own day.
(6) It is in death alone that the end of the prosperity of many of the ungodly is reached; even in his burial, outward pomp and display accompany him as far as possible — buried with all the honor that wealth can buy, and the watchman guarding the tomb where his body is laid away. In this sense the very clods of his grave seem to pander to his pride; his gorgeous mausoleum still declaring what a great man he was.
(7) Thus Job concludes a very complete answer to all the magniloquence of his friends. Their "comforts," indeed, are vain, and their replies are lacking in the sincerity that indicates the real seeker after truth.
We have reached the end of the second series in the controversy. As already stated, there are gleams of Job's faith in it, though still clouded with dark questionings of God. On the other hand, his friends have evidently reached the limit of their ability to force a conclusion, although they will make one more effort. On the whole, we may say that distinct progress has been made, and the advantage is with Job. As yet, however, the enigma remains, "Why does God afflict the righteous?" and Job has yet to learn the reply, not from men, but from God Himself.