Job was an eminently pious man. God declares that there was none like him in the earth. But he needed trial. Though he feared God and eschewed evil, he really knew little of himself, or of God. "Before honour is humility." The pious patriarch needed to be brought low, in order to be lifted up; to learn the sentence of death on everything here, in order to fully trust in God who raiseth the dead.
He had sons and daughters, and his thought of them was in relation to God — "it may be," said he, that "they have cursed God in their hearts." He therefore offered burnt-offerings to God according to their number. Thus did Job continually. And most blessed too is it to see that when by God's permission Job was deprived of his oxen, sheep, camels, servants, and sons, at a stroke as it were, he "arose and rent his mantle, and shaved his head, and fell down upon the ground, and worshipped, and said, Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord." ( Job 1:20, 21.) This was most blessed. It showed thorough subjection to God under His bereaving hand. It manifested that this servant of the Lord was walking in the way of faith, tracing every sorrow, by whatever instrumentality it reached him, to God alone, and taking everything from His hand. And, when further affliction came, wave after wave, so that he had to relieve his bodily distress by scraping himself with a potsherd, and his wife a trouble rather than a comfort, breathing the suggestions of the great enemy of souls in advising him to "curse God and die," still his eye is so set upon God, that he turns sharply upon her, and says, "Thou speakest as one of the foolish women speaketh. What? shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?" (Job 2:10.) This lesson of submission was, if I may so say, in the ordinary course of a pious man. Blessed, most blessed as it is, it is not the only lesson that God has to teach. The human heart is deceitful above all things as well as desperately wicked. There are deep things of God too which the Spirit searcheth. To bow in submission to God in a great bereavement is to some not so difficult a lesson as to cease from our own wisdom, and to refuse every idea of creature righteousness, and self-sufficiency. To have a place of credit among men, among saints if you please, may lie underneath many active energies which connect themselves with service to God, and acquiescence in heavy losses. God is the Searcher of the heart. He alone knows it thoroughly, for He alone has searched it. He teaches us that all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags, and would have us cease from our own wisdom, and lean on Him as our only sufficiency and strength. He shows us that in the cross of Christ our old man was crucified. There He presents to us at a glance His estimate of man in the flesh. The flesh, morally, intellectually, religiously, is there seen under the judgment of God. Its fancied wisdom, righteousness, strength, desires, are there weighed in God's balance, and pronounced unfit for His presence worthy only of death and burial. It is a deep lesson to learn, that the flesh profiteth nothing;" but oh! how blessed is the fact that our sufficiency is of God, and that He hath made Christ unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption, that no flesh should glory in His presence, but according as it is written, "He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord."
Job little thought when his friends came, or they either, that he was going to be submitted to a further trial. But so it was. Real sympathy doubtless prompted them; for how can we suppose that otherwise they could have sat down with him on the ground seven days and seven nights in silence? Besides, we are told that their object was "to mourn with him, and to comfort him," and that they lifted up their voices and wept before they came near him, and that they also rent every man his mantle, and sprinkled dust on their heads toward heaven. They saw that Job's grief was very great.
But with all this good intention, and uprightness of purpose on both sides, a serious and painful controversy ensued among these men of God. Little did either of them suspect that God was permitting them to scourge one another, in order to bring out what would otherwise have remained hidden, and to bring all in self-abasement before Him. Job thought himself aggrieved, and his friends assured themselves that they were in the right. But the Lord at the end taught every one of them most valuable lessons.
It seems as if God allowed the matter to work itself out so far, that there was manifestly no help in the creature. Then the Lord came in. Job saw faults in his friends, and they were not ignorant of failure in him. Painful sentences were uttered and retorted. It was man against man, but we read little of the Lord in all the controversy. Before the controversy, Job was habitually found at the altar of burnt offering, and so was he at the end of it; but during the painful season of intercourse of these men of God, we have no reference on either side to God's altar of burnt-offering. Surely this reads us a serious lesson; for I ask, Can there be a clearer proof of our not being in communion with the Lord, than forgetfulness of the Lamb as it had been slain? Could we be filling our mouths with carnal arguments, or be relying on the stratagems of fleshly wisdom, if we were adoringly contemplating Jesus who was crucified for sinners? Is the flesh in us laid low, while we are unmindful of its being judged and dead upon the cross? And have we power to maintain controversy or conflict, according to the mind of Christ, except we are living by the faith of the Son of God, in communion with Him whom God hath raised from the dead, who now appears in the presence of God for us?
During the controversy, Job seems to be only before men; but when he is brought into the presence of God, instrumentally perhaps, by Elihu, then he learns profitable lessons. But, through all, God was working; He marked every word that came out, and made His own judgment most clear at the end, that none of them had spoken of Him so rightly as Job.
This pious man soon learned when in God's presence something of his own sinfulness. He said, "Behold I am vile." But this, though a good beginning, was not all that God wanted to do for him. Generalities are often easily grasped, and as easily uttered; but God must have details, if we confess our sins. The searching process therefore must go on, the hidden things of the heart must be brought so clearly to the conscience, that the soul finds relief only in confessing it all, and knows rest again at the burnt-offering.
In God's presence, as it were under God's eye, Job learned experimentally that He was Almighty, and the Searcher of every thought of the heart. "I know that thou canst do everything, and that no thought can be withholden from Thee." (Job 42:2.) He seems to quote the first words the Lord uttered when He spoke to Job out of the whirlwind, "Who is he that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?" and then makes the solemn confession of his own guiltiness, "Therefore have I uttered that I understood not; things too wonderful for me, which I knew not." This is indeed renouncing his own wisdom. But further, he goes on to say, "I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth Thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes."
This is enough. The lessons, though so costly, have been learnt. He lays hands, as it were, on his own righteousness, and strength, and fancied goodness, and condemns all; yea, more than this, he sets self completely aside as vile and worthless, "I abhor myself;" and in this self-loathing frame he confesses a change of mind, "I repent." His sorrow has wrought in him a repentance not to be repented of. He lies down in self-abhorrence in dust, because he acknowledges self only fit to be laid low in the dust, and buried out of God's sight, a sinner by birth as one of Adam's fallen race, concerning whom it was said, "Dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return" (Gen. 3:19); and he takes the place of ashes, as withered up under the trial of the searching fire of an infinitely holy God. Thus the patriarch comes to the end of self, when under divine teaching in God's holy presence. It is enough; he judges himself, and needs no longer to be judged and chastened.
But more than this. He has to learn God, and the provision that He has made for such as he. While Job is thus in felt weakness and self-abhorrence before the Lord, He now undertakes for His servant. Job having given everything up to God, God can now come in and plead His cause with his three friends. We are therefore told that the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite, My wrath is kindled against thee, and against thy two friends: for ye have not spoken of Me the thing that is right, as my servant Job hath. Therefore take unto you now seven bullocks and seven rams, and go to my servant Job, and offer up for yourselves a burnt-offering; and my servant Job shall pray for you: for him will I accept: lest I deal with you after your folly, in that ye have not spoken of Me the thing which is right, like my servant Job. So Eliphaz the Temanite, and Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite went, and did according as the Lord commanded them: the Lord also accepted Job."
How important is the last sentence, "The Lord also accepted Job." How truly the divine statute is here fulfilled, "He that humbleth himself shall be exalted." And what a profound, but simple lesson the Holy Ghost here sets before us. Observe that God still calls Eliphaz and his brethren Job's friends, and Job is seen no longer wrangling and contending with them, but crying unto God for them. This was the turning-point. Nor is this all. The time is now come that he who has been brought low shall be lifted up. Therefore it is added that "the Lord turned the captivity of Job, when he prayed for his friends: also the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before." Friends, substance, family, all more abundant, with the blessing of the Lord, than he knew before. Now I ask, beloved, what are we to learn from this divine narrative?