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THE BOOK OF JOB.
We should place the Book of Job either in the age of Solomon, or in that immediately subsequent. In the ideas contained in the Book of Job there is a striking similarity to those which are found in the Book of the Proverbs. Several commentators are of opinion that the former is the joint production of some of the wise men who lived during the reign of Solomon, or soon after his death.
This book is the most sublime and beautiful poetical work of the Hebrews : it surpasses all their other writings in the excellence of its religious sentiments, especially in the purity of its notions concerning God. It may with justice be styled the masterpiece of antiquity. An author who, in a period of general ignorance, could so far expel from his mind the prevailing prejudices and superstitions of his country, and could work out for himself a belief and morality so comparatively pure and reasonable, must have attained to a high degree of intellectual advancement. The subject of the poem is wholly religious, but it is deeply melancholy, owing to the gloomy views entertained by the author of an hereafter ; to him the future is wrapped in an appalling darkness. The object of the work is to explain in what manner the sufferings of the good may be reconciled with the existence of a just providence, and also to afford strength and consolation to the afflicted. Job, the hero of the poem, is an Arab; his opponents are Arabs or Idumeans: they are ignorant of Israel's faith and Israel's worship. Their God is the God of
The name Jehovah is employed by the narrator, who in the prologue speaks of himself as an Israelite ; but, in the dialogues between the several personages who are introduced in the drama, the name of Israel's national-God is carefully avoided.
The opinions of the writer are expressed by Job; excepting always those hasty and impatient exclamations, which
are uttered by him when irritated by acute bodily suffering, or when heated by controversy and the unjust accusations of his adversaries. The opponents of Job adopt the popular notions of a Providence, and contend—that to suppose that God does not reward virtue, and punish vice, is to impeach the Divine justice ;—that a just God cannot do otherwise than secure to the righteous the fruits of their well-doing, and visit the wicked with the curse of his displeasure;—that, consequently, whoever is harassed by misfortunes, sickness, poverty, or other ills, though indeed to human observation his conduct may appear not only innocent, but praiseworthy, he is nevertheless to be regarded as receiving the just retribution of guilt ;—that, if a man experiences adversity, he is assuredly guilty in the sight of God. Job held other and more enlarged views of this subject; they will be considered in a distinct section.
Notions of Job's adversaries concerning God and Providence.
Four opponents of Job, each sustaining his individual character, are introduced into the poem. Eliphas, Bildad, and Zophar agree in their defence of the divine Providence. The arguments employed by Elihu, a younger speaker, differ but little from those used by his companions; but he is much more moderate in his language, and is desirous of acting the part of a mediator.
God is the only God. He is therefore called either Eloah (in the singular number, and not as formerly Elohim), or else, the Almighty. He is the Creator and Governor of the whole earth. The weather and all the phenomena of nature depend on him. He brings the machinations of the wicked to nought, and rescues the oppressed.
“Shall a man be more pure than his Maker Q”—Job iv. 17.
“I would seek unto God, and unto God would I commit my cause: which doeth great things and unsearchable; marvellous things without number: who giveth rain upon the earth, and sendeth waters upon the fields : to set up on high those that be
low; that those which mourn may be exalted to safety. He disappointeth the devices of the crafty, so that their hands cannot perform their enterprise. He taketh the wise in their own craftiness: and the counsel of the froward is carried headlong. They meet with darkness in the daytime, and grope in the noonday as in the night. But he saveth the poor from the sword, from their mouth, and from the hand of the mighty.”—Chap. v. 8-15. God is just and holy.
“ Shall mortal man be more just than God? Shall a man be more pure than his Maker ?"-Chap. iv. 17.
Man more just,” so that he shall be able to charge God with injustice in the awards of fate : “ more pure,” so that he shall be able to charge his Maker with the violation of holiness in rewarding vice.
There exists an intermediate order of beings between God and man, his angels or messengers. These are not free from failings. They appear to men in night visions in order to instruct them. They have no tangible form; they are spirits, phantoms, who are only recognised by the soft breath which precedes them and announces their approach.
“ Now a thing was secretly brought to me, and mine ear received a little thereof. In thoughts from the visions of the night, when deep sleep falleth on men, fear came upon me, and trembling, which made all my bones to shake. Then a spirit passed before my face; the hair of my flesh stood up: it stood still, but I could not discern the form thereof: an image was before mine eyes ; there was silence, and I heard a voice, saying, Shall mortal man be more just than God ? shall a man be more pure than his maker? Behold, he put no trust in his servants; and his angels he charged with folly."- Chap. iv. 12-18.
• Behold, he putteth no trust in his saints; yea, the heavens are not clean in his sight.”—Chap. xv. 15. The providence of God is shown in the good fortune which attends the innocent, and the evil fortune which pursues the guilty. This is the contested point-this is the position which it is the object of the Book of Job to confute.
“Remember, I pray thee, who ever perished, being innocent? or where were the righteous cut off ? Even as I have seen, they that plow iniquity, and sow wickedness, reap the same. By the blast of God they perish, and by the breath of his nostrils are they consumed.”—Chap. iv. 7-9. See chap. v. 3-6; xv. 20-35. Afflictions sometimes befal the good and pious, but they are merely chastisements permitted by God for a while, in order to promote the accomplishment of some wise though secret purpose.
Such chastisements are always of short duration.
• Behold, happy is the man whom God correcteth: therefore despise not thou the chastening of the Almighty : for he maketh sore, and bindeth up: he woundeth, and his hands make whole. He shall deliver thee in six troubles : yea, in seven there shall
no evil touch thee."-- Chap. v. 17-19. See verses 21-27. The punishments of God may be averted by repentance and amendment of life.
" If thou return to the Almighty, thou shalt be built up, thou shalt put away iniquity far from thy tabernacles. Then shalt thou lay up gold as dust, and the gold of Ophir as the stones of the brooks. Yea, the Almighty shall be thy defence, and thou shalt have plenty of silver. For then shalt thou have thy delight in the Almighty, and shalt lift up thy face unto God.”—Chap. xxii. 23-26. A man's righteousness cannot be profitable to God: man cannot by obedience and worship add to the happiness and perfection of the Almighty.
“ Can a man be profitable unto God, as he that is wise may be profitable unto himself? Is it any pleasure to the Almighty that thou art righteous ? or is it gain to him, that thou makest
thy ways perfect ?”—Chap. xxii. 2, 3. Notwithstanding the justness of this sentiment expressed by Eliphas, his views of religion and virtue are strictly selfish.
BILDAD. Bildad agrees with Eliphas, and repeats the same arguments, only with more vehemence. God is almighty, just, and holy.
“ Doth God pervert judgment? or doth the Almighty pervert justice?”—Chap. viii. 3.
“ Dominion and fear are with him, he maketh peace in his high places. Is there any number of his armies? and upon whom doth not his light arise ? How then can man be justified with God? or how can he be clean that is born of a woman?”.
Chap. xxv. 2-4. Whoever suffers makes atonement for the sins he has committed. The justice of God is proved by his punishment of the guilty. It invariably fares ill with the wicked and well with the good, either sooner or later.
“If thy children have sinned against him, and he have cast them away for their transgression ; if thou wouldest seek unto God betimes, and make thy supplication to the Almighty ; if thou wert pure and upright; surely now he would awake for thee, and make the habitation of thy righteousness prosperous. Though thy beginning was small, yet thy latter end should greatly increase. Behold, God will not cast away a perfect man, neither will he help the evil doers: till he fill thy mouth with laughing; and thy lips with rejoicing."--Chap. viii. 4-7, 20, 21. See chap. viii. 13-19 ; and xviii. 5-21.
Zophar is the most violent and the most ignorant of Job's opponents. He repeats what the others have previously asserted: that God is almighty and just : that consequently he cannot but punish the wicked; and that they who would escape the just retribution of their sins, must reform their conduct.
“ Canst thou by searching find out God ? canst thou find out the Almighty unto perfection ? It is as high as heaven; what canst thou do? deeper than hell; what canst thou know? The measure thereof is longer than the earth, and broader than the sea.”—Chap. xi. 7-9.
“ But the eyes of the wicked shall fail, and they shall not escape, and their hope shall be as the giving up of the ghost.”—
Chap. xi. 20. See chap. xviii. 4-29. “ If thou prepare thine heart, and stretch out thine hands towards him; if iniquity be in thine hand, put it far away, and let not wickedness dwell in thy tabernacles. For then shalt thou lift up thy face without spot; yea, thou shalt be steadfast, and shalt not fear.”—Chap. xi. 13-15.
Elihu, though rather too vain of his knowledge, speaks more temperately, and on the whole more justly, than Job's other adversaries ; but he is unable to give any satisfactory explanation of the debated point.
God is the Creator of the world. If he withdraw his breath men die and return to the dust. According to the ancient mythus man is formed out of the earth, and God's breath breathes in his nostrils.
“ Who hath given him a charge over the earth? or who hath disposed the whole world ? If he set his heart upon man, if he