John Kitto Evening Bible Devotions: January 1

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John Kitto Evening Bible Devotions: January 1

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Job and the Poetical Books: Evening Series

Design of the Book of Job

The Book of Job is not only one of the most remarkable in the Bible, but in literature. As was said of Goliath’s sword—“There is none like it;” none in ancient or in modern literature. Hence the difficulty of those who have labored to define the class of compositions to which it belongs. It belongs to no class; it is a class by itself.

This day we limit our view to the object of this not merely singular, but perfectly unique book.

The design appears at the first view to be like that of the greatest of human poems, “to justify the ways of God to man,” and this, in the largest sense, is the correct view of it. Yet the ways of God, so often to man’s imperfect view “puzzled with mazes,” cannot be said to be forensically vindicated therein. Much is stated to correct crude notions of the Lord’s dealings with man in this state of life; but the result rather binds us up in the position, that the greatness and infinite wisdom of God being demonstrated by his marvellous works the only satisfactory conclusion in which erring and feeble man can rest, is, that He doeth all things well; and that by reason of his perfections, which render wrong-doing impossible to Him, we are bound to believe that whatever tempts us to mistrust and misgiving must ultimately prove to be consistent with eternal justice.

The book is, in fact, engaged with the great problem regarding the distribution of good and evil in the world, especially as viewed in connection with the doctrine of a righteous retribution in the present life. It sets forth the struggle between faith in the perfect government of God, and the various doubts excited by what it sees and feels of human misery, and by what it knows of the prosperity of many among those who are despisers of God. The subject thus appears to be one that comes home to men’s business and bosoms. Even under the light of Christianity, there are, perhaps, few who have not at particular seasons felt the strife between faith in the perfect government of the world, and the various feelings excited in the mind by what they have experienced of human suffering. The pains of the innocent, of those who cannot discern between their right hand and their left, the protracted calamities which are often the lot of the righteous, and the prosperity which often crowns the designs of the wicked, have at times excited wonder, perplexity, and doubt in every thinking mind. We, as Christians, silence our doubts and confirm our faith, not only by what experience teaches of the general wisdom and benevolence of the Creator, and by the consideration that affliction comes from the same hand which is the source of all our blessings, but by an enlightened perception of the moral and religious uses of adversity; by the assured hope of that joy in a better world of those who endure to the end; and, above all, by the filial conviction which ought to become, and often is, a principle of action in all the relations of life, that He who spared not his own Son to secure our redemption from the calamities of sin, cannot possibly, after such proof of his love, mean other than well and kindly to us, no less in the bitter than the sweet which He casts into our lot.

But to understand and appreciate the object of the Book of Job, and the discussion which it embraces, we are bound to overlook some of the sources of consolation which are open to us as Christians, and try to enter into the state of mind of men upon whom the Sun of Righteousness had not yet risen—although there may have been indications in the warm flush of the distant horizon to tell that He was coming. it is surely not strange that the soul of a pious patriarch or even a pious Jew, who lived before life and immortality were brought to light by the Gospel, might have been sorely exercised by the conflict between such a faith in even-handed retribution here as his religion warranted him to expect, and the doubts and murmurs excited by what he felt and saw of the calamities of the righteous, and by what he witnessed of the prosperity of the wicked.

To this state of mind, and to the development of the great question, thus limited, the Book of Job is devoted. Its form is well suited to the subject. We have, first, a historical introduction, stating the circumstances which gave rise to the discussion; being the sudden calamity and worldly overthrow of a man eminent for integrity and righteousness, in such a manner as suggested that he was specially afflicted of Heaven. The secret object of this, in the counsels of Heaven, is disclosed to us; and the lines of diverging error, through which the various parties in the ensuing discussion pass, in their attempts to reconcile this astonishing event with their pre-conceived notions, frequently illustrate the fact that there are divine objects to be accomplished in such dispensations, which man cannot discover or take into account; and the possible existence of which ought in all cases to prevent harsh judgments and to shut the complaining mouth. In the case before us, the harsh Judgment is represented in the various views which the friends of Job take in his sad case; while Job himself opens the complaining mouth not very temperately. The true view of the case is hinted at eventually by a strange person, who comes in at last as a sort of voluntary umpire between the disputants. This is Elihu, who, although he appears abruptly at last, his presence not having been previously indicated, nevertheless declares himself to have been an attentive listener to the whole discussion. This view is further confirmed by the Lord himself, who at last appears; and who, in a strain of the most magnificent utterances ever delivered in the language of man, convicts the disputants on both sides of ignorance and presumption, and brings Job himself to a right mind, which he expresses in the words—“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.”

In the result he is pardoned and restored: and the conclusion is such as to sanction the prevalent idea of the finally retributive character, even in this world, of the Divine government; for “the Lord blessed his latter end more than his beginning,” restoring double to him of all his prosperity and wealth. This, in fact, was the argument of the friends of Job; but the fault was that they did not wait “to see the end.” Even in their view of the Divine government by temporal retribution, it is visibly impossible safely to pass such judgments as they were in haste to pronounce, until the end of all is seen, for there is no afflicted man whose prosperity may not be restored with large increase; and, while that remains possible no judgment upon his conduct can be founded upon his condition, which may be but temporary—may be but an incident in his career. But in truth, while we, to a certain extent, are ready enough to repudiate the principles upon which these men reasoned, their reasoning is practically that which prevails in the world to this day; for there has rarely yet been a man, fallen from prosperity into trouble, who has not found many friends, like those of Job, ready to lay all the blame of his misfortunes upon himself, and to trace his ruin to his misconduct, which now becomes apparent, or which is assumed even, if no trace of it can be found. Oh, what a world were this, if man’s happiness rested upon the judgment of his fellows, or if the troubled spirit had no appeal from man’s judgment to One who judgeth righteously!