Job and His Friends
C. H. Mackintosh
The opening page of this remarkable book furnishes us with a view of the patriarch Job, surrounded by every thing that could make the world agreeable to him, and make him of importance in the world. "There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job; and that man was perfect and upright, and one that feared God and eschewed evil". Thus much as to what he was. Let us now see what he had.
"And there were born unto him seven sons and three daughters. His substance also was seven thousand sheep, and three thousand camels, and five hundred yoke of oxen, and five hundred she-asses, and a very great household; so that this man was the greatest of all the children of the east. And his sons went and feasted in their houses every one his day; and sent and called for their three sisters, to eat and to drink with them". Then, to complete the picture, we have the record of what he did.
"And it was so, when the days of their feasting were gone about, that Job sent and sanctified them, and rose up early in the morning, and offered burnt-offerings according to the number of them all; for Job said, 'It may that my sons have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts'. Thus did Job continually."
Here, then, we have a very rare specimen of a man. He was perfect, upright, God-fearing, and eschewed evil. Moreover, the hand of God had hedged him round about on every side, and strewed his path with richest mercies. He had all that heart could wish, children and wealth in abundance, honor and distinction from all around. In short, we may almost say, his cup of earthly bliss was full. But Job needed to be tested. There was a deep moral root in his heart which had to be laid bare. There was self-righteousness which had to be brought to the surface and judged. Indeed, we may discern this root in the very words which we have just quoted. He says, "It may be that my sons have sinned". He does not seem to contemplate the possibility of sinning himself. A soul really self-judged, thoroughly broken before God, truly sensible of its own state, tendencies, and capabilities, would think of his own sins, and his own need of a burnt-offering.
Now let the reader distinctly understand that Job was a real saint of God — a divinely quickened soul, a possessor of divine and eternal life. We cannot too strongly insist upon this. He was just as truly a man of God in the 1st chapter as he was in the 42nd. If we do not see this, we shall miss one of the grand lessons of the book. Verse 8 of chapter 1 establishes this point beyond all question. "And the Lord said unto Satan, 'Hast thou considered My servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God and escheweth evil?'"
But with all this, Job had never sounded the depths of his own heart. He did not know himself. He had never really grasped the truth of his own utter ruin and total depravity. He had never learnt to say, "I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, good does not dwell". This point must be seized, or the book of Job will not be understood. We shall not see the specific object of all those deep and painful exercises through which Job was called to pass unless we lay hold of the solemn fact that his conscience had never been really in the divine presence, that he had never seen himself in the light, never measured himself by a divine standard, never weighed himself in the balances of the sanctuary.
Turn for a moment to chapter 29, and you will find a striking proof of what we assert. You will there see distinctly what a strong and deep root of self-complacency there was in the heart of this dear and valued servant of God, and how this root was nourished by the very tokens of divine favor with which he was surrounded. This chapter is a pathetic lament over the faded light of other days; and the very tone and character of the lament prove how necessary it was that Job should be stripped of every thing, in order that he might learn himself in the searching light of the Divine Presence. It is a most remarkable utterance. We look in vain for any breathings of a broken and a contrite spirit here. There are no evidences of self-loathing, or even of self-distrust. We cannot find a single expression of conscious weakness and nothingness. In the course of this chapter, Job refers to himself more than forty times, while the references to God are but five. It reminds us of the 7th of Romans, by the predominance of "I"; but there is this immense difference, that, in the 7th of Romans, "I" is a poor, weak, good-for-nothing, wretched creature in the presence of the holy law of God, whereas, in Job 29, "I" is a most important, influential person, admired and almost worshiped by his fellows.
Now Job had to be stripped of all this; and when we compare chapter 29 with chapter 30 we can form some idea of how painful the process of stripping must have been. "But now they that are younger than I have me in derision". There is peculiar emphasis on the words, "But now". Job draws a most striking contrast between his past and his present. In chapter 30 he is still occupied with himself. It is still "I"; but ah, how changed! The very men who flattered him in the day of his prosperity, treat him with contempt in the day of his adversity. This it is ever in this poor, false, deceitful world, and it is well to be made to prove it. All must, sooner or later, find out the hollowness of the world — the fickleness of those who are ready to cry out "hosanna" today, and "crucify him" tomorrow. Man is not to be trusted. It is all very well while the sun shines; but wait till the nipping blasts of winter come, and then you will see how far nature's fair promises and professions can be trusted. When the prodigal had plenty to spend, he found plenty to share his portion; but when he began to be in want, "no man gave unto him".
Thus it was with Job in chapter 30. But be it well remembered that there is very much more needed than the stripping of self, and the discovery of the hollowness and deceitfulness of the world. One may go through all these, and the result be merely chagrin and disappointment. Indeed, it can be nothing more if God be not reached. If the heart be not brought to find its all-satisfying portion in God, then a reverse of fortune leaves it desolate; and the discovery of the fickleness and hollowness of men fills it with bitterness. This will account for Job's language in chapter 30: "But now they that are younger than I have me in derision, whose fathers I would have disdained to have set with the dogs of my flock". Was this the spirit of Christ? Would Job have spoken thus at the close of the book? He would not. When once Job got into God's presence, there was an end of the egotism of chapter 29 and the bitterness of chapter 30.
... "Then Job answered the Lord, and said, 'I know that Thou canst do every thing, and that no thought can be withholden from Thee. Who is he that hideth counsel without knowledge? therefore have I uttered that I understood not; things too wonderful for me, which I knew not. Hear, I beseech Thee, and I will speak. I will demand of Thee, and declare Thou unto me. I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear, but now mine eye seeth Thee'" (chapter 42:1-9). Here, then, was the turning-point. All his previous statements as to God and His ways are now pronounced to be "words without knowledge". What a confession! What a moment in a man's history when he discovers that he has been all wrong! What a thorough break-down! What profound humiliation! It reminds us of Jacob getting the hollow of his thigh touched, and thus learning his utter weakness and nothingness. There are weighty moments in the history of souls — great epochs, which leave an indelible impress on the whole moral being and character. To get right thoughts about God is to begin to get right about every thing. If I am wrong about God, I am wrong about myself, wrong about my fellows, wrong about all.
Thus it was with Job. His new thoughts as to God were immediately connected with new thoughts of himself; and hence we find that the elaborate self-vindication, the impassioned egotism, the vehement self-gratulation, the lengthened arguments in self-defense — all is laid aside; all is displaced by one short sentence of three words: "I am vile". And what is to be done with this vile self? Talk about it? Set it up? Be occupied with it? Take counsel for it? Make provision for it? Nay, "I abhor it". This is the true moral ground for every one of us. Job took a long time to reach it, and so do we. Many of us imagine that we have reached the end of self when we have given a nominal assent to the doctrine of human depravity or judged some of those sprouts which have appeared above the surface of our practical life. But, alas! I fear that very few of us indeed really know the full truth about ourselves. It is one thing to say, "We are all vile", and quite another to feel, deep down in the heart, that "I am vile". This latter can only be known and habitually realized in the immediate presence of God. The two things must ever go together. "Mine eye seeth Thee", "wherefore I abhor myself". It is as the light of what God is shines in upon what I am that I abhor myself. And then my self-abhorrence is a real thing. It is not in word nor in tongue, but in deed and in truth. It will be seen in a life of self-abnegation, a humble spirit, a lowly mind, a gracious carriage in the midst of the scenes through which I am called to pass. It is of little use to profess very low thoughts of self while, at the same time, we are quick to resent any injury done to us, — any fancied insult, slight, or disparagement. The true secret of a broken and contrite heart is, to abide ever in the Divine Presence, and then we are able to carry ourselves right toward those with whom we have to do.
Thus we find that when Job got right as to God and himself, he soon got right as to his friends, for he learned to pray for them. Yes, he could pray for the "miserable comforters", the "physicians of no value", the very men with whom he had so long, so stoutly, and so vehemently contended! "And the Lord turned the captivity of Job when he prayed for his friends". This is morally beautiful. It is perfect. It is the rare and exquisite fruit of divine workmanship. Nothing can be more touching than to see Job's three friends exchanging their experience, their tradition, and their legality for the precious "burnt-offering"; and to see our dear patriarch exchanging his bitter invectives for the sweet prayer of charity. In short, it is a most soul-subduing scene altogether. The combatants are in the dust before God and in each other's arms. The strife is ended; the war of words is closed; and instead thereof, we have the tears of repentance, the sweet odor of the burnt-offering, the embrace of love.
Happy scene! Precious fruit of divine ministry! What remains? What more is needed? What but that the hand of God should lay the top-stone on the beauteous structure? Nor is this lacking, for we read, "The Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before". But how? By what agency? Was it by his own independent industry and clever management? No; all is changed. Job is on new moral ground. He has new thoughts of God, new thoughts of himself, new thoughts of his friends, new thoughts of his circumstances; all things are become new. "Then came there unto him all his brethren, and all his sisters, and all they that had been of his acquaintance before, and did eat bread with him in his house; and they bemoaned him, and comforted him over all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him; every man also gave him a piece of money, and every one an earring of gold. So the Lord blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning. ..."
Extract from Miscellaneous Writings, by C. H. Mackintosh.
"God forbid that I should justify you: till I die I will not remove my integrity from me. My righteousness I hold fast, and will not let it go: my heart shall not reproach me so long as I live". Job 27:5-6.
"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". Job 42:5-6.
Job and His Friends