John Kitto Evening Bible Devotions: January 10

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John Kitto Evening Bible Devotions: January 10

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Cursing God


We have assumed, what is so probable as to be almost beyond a question, that Job himself sometimes attended the entertainments given in turn by his sons. Indeed, we should have assumed that he was always present, did we not historically know that he was once absent—and the fact of his occasional absence being thus shown, we are in a more favorable condition for explaining the somewhat difficult text which gives the account of these fraternal entertainments. “When the days of their feasting were gone about, 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 be that my sons have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts, Thus did Job continually.”

We apprehend this to mean, that when the cycle of entertainments for the year or other period over which the rotation ran, had been completed, Job customarily sent to invite them all to meet at his house, that they might be present at a solemn act of expiatory sacrifice—which, as the head of the family, it belonged to him in the absence of a priesthood to offer—by way of atonement generally for the sins of the season gone by, and specially for any forgetfulness of God into which they might have fallen, in the course of their festivities. The subsequent institution, under the law of Moses, of a great annual clay of atonement, understood to be expiatory for the transgressions of the congregation during the past year, helps to corroborate this interpretation, as well as to illustrate the practice. This was, therefore, the time, in the course of the rotation of visits, when all the family assembled in their father’s house. It was his turn then to receive them, and his entertainment was solemn, paternal, and holy, as became his position and character.

As to sanctifying them in the strict spiritual sense—that is, of making their holy—Job could not do this, nor any man that lived. He could only take the means, by prayer and sacrifice, of advancing their sanctification. The word, however, is often in the Old Testament applied to the purifications usual before an act of sacrifice, such as ablutions and the like. We know these observances chiefly as parts of the Jewish ritual, but in principle they had, no doubt, a previous existence; and some rite or ceremony, symbolical of purification, is to this clay an indispensable preliminary to every act of worship or sacrifice in the various religions of the East. It may, therefore, appear that Job, in inviting his sons to be present at the solemn sacrifice intended for their benefit, enjoined them to put themselves into a condition of personal purification, by certain ablutions, fastings, prayers, or abstinences; and knowing or presuming that they had done this before they reached his abode, or after their arrival, “He rose early the following morning to perform the solemn act of expiatory sacrifice which devolved upon him.” Or it is quite as possible that the act of sanctification lay in the sacrifice itself, and had no reference to preliminary purification. This is possible, but not likely—not only from the nature of the thing, but from its being seemingly mentioned as a previous and separate matter.

But into what special evil did Job suspect that they had fallen (particularly, perhaps, at those times when he was absent from their festivals), when he said: “It may be that my sons have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts?

It is observed that the word here, and in a few other places, translated to curse, usually means just the contrary, namely, to bless, the sense in which it should be used being determined by the context. To many it has seemed so strange a thing for the same word to have directly opposite meanings, that they have hesitated to believe that a word, the common signification of which is “bless,” can, in any case, mean “curse,” and have labored with great ingenuity to show that even in the present text it must be taken in the ordinary sense. But how, then, could it be a sin “to bless God?” This is the difficulty which they undertake to solve—and we must try to explain their solution to the reader. First, then, it is observed that to bless is the common salutation among friends at parting, as well as meeting. It was so among the Hebrews, and is so in most nations. Among ourselves, “God bless you,” is emphatically a parting salutation, equivalent to bidding farewell. Hence, as in blessing is found the sense of bidding farewell to, leaving, renouncing, abandoning, disregarding, the idiom of bidding adieu to things or objects good or bad, in the sense of renouncing or quitting them, is common to most languages, and is familiar in our own literature. So Shakespeare—

Bid farewell to your good life for ever.”

“Farewell, a long farewell, to all my greatness.”

So Waller—

Treading the path to noble ends,

A long farewell to love I gave.”

Under this view, then, it results that to bless God, in the sense here intended, is to bid adieu, as it were, to God, and give up all regard to his worship and service; or, as one writer on this side of the question Note: Dr. Garnett, in his Dissertations on Job. almost too strongly expresses it, “To shake hands with the very God that made them, and to take leave of everything serious and sacred.” Still, however, there is no clear instance in Scripture, in which bidding farewell to a person or thing, is used in a bad sense, as of renunciation of a person or thing with dislike or unkindness. And, after all, the result of this explanation is to make the sense come very near to cursing, while the word “blessing” is retained.

Another interpretation, reaching the same actual result by a different path, is founded on the undoubted fact, that there are in all languages many deeds and many things deemed so odious and abominable, that they are never named directly, but are expressed by other terms. Thus the Athenians felt a delicacy in using the word prison, and said house instead; so they forbore to name the executioner, but said the public; and in like manner, abstained from directly naming the Furies, but said the Eumenides. Hundreds of examples of this practice might be adduced—and there are many in our own language. The Hebrews, beyond all people of ancient times, felt this kind of modest reserve in the expression of hateful things. So in their imprecations and adjurations of themselves or others, we observe they avoid naming the specific evils—but say, “The Lord do so to me, and more also.” So far well: but those who take the view in question, go on to argue therefrom, that in the present case “to curse God,” to blaspheme, was an enormity deemed unutterable, that it could not be expressed, and that, therefore, to avoid connecting such an idea with that holy and venerable name, they said “to bless God,” leaving the true meaning to be gathered from the context. This is a plausible and pleasing idea—but it happens not to be true, as there are numerous passages of Scripture in which blasphemy against God is very plainly expressed, showing that the Hebrews did not entertain the scruple that is ascribed to there. Some cases in which the expression of blasphemies against the Lord occur, would, more strongly than this, have been deemed to call for suppression had any such rule prevailed. Here again, however, after all, we come to the essential fact of cursing, although the form of blessing is contended for.

There is, however, yet one other explanation which takes blessing in the plain literal sense, but makes a change in the object. No doubt all our readers know that the Hebrew word for God, Elohim, is plural—the plural of majesty. But being plural, it is exactly the same word which is employed to express really in the plural the gods of the heathen. As the Hebrews have no capital letters, there is no way of distinguishing the application of these words as we distinguish Lord from lord: The application can only be gathered from the context, and usually it may be gathered correctly. Now, in the present case it is urged that the word Elohim should be translated not “God,” but “gods,”—“they blessed the gods,”—which would indicate that the subject of Job’s apprehension was lest his sons, in the midst of their festivities, had been led into any idolatrous actions or observances, at least to the extent of blessing in their hearts the hosts of heaven (particularly the sun), worshipped in that age, as the visible instruments of the blessings which indeed they owed to God only. The danger of which might be greater, seeing that festivities were much connected with idolatry, and often led to it.

If this were the case—if it were to be feared that the danger of idolatry was involved in these family entertainments—how came it to pass, it may be asked, that a parent so pious and careful as Job, did not use his effectual paternal influence against them altogether? We feel assured that he would have done so, had he suspected the danger of which he is thus supposed to be aware. Besides, this notion is founded on the idea, that the word (barak), usually signifying to bless, never does mean to curse. It seems to us that a sufficient answer to this is found in 1Ki_21:10-13, where the charge is made against Naboth, that he had “blasphemed God and the king.” Here the word blaspheme is the very same that is now in question—the same which is twice in the present chapter translated curse. There are other passages where it is also rendered blaspheme; but as they are less conclusively distinct than this, we shall not produce them. Note: We are of course aware of the notion which presses the sense under notice in this text also, by substituting Moloch for king (the words being alike in Hebrew)—so that the charge was, that he blessed Moloch. But how then about blessing God also, which was surely not a capital offence? But this interpretation is too forced, and we may say puerile for closer examination here.

We take it, then, that the word does not mean bless. Yet perhaps curse is too strong a word whereby to translate the Hebrew in this place—or, at any rate, that the word is not to be taken in its perfect sense. We are not to infer that Job’s children did deny, or that their father even supposed it probable they had denied the being of God, or wished that there was none; or as little that they—persons piously brought up—had used blasphemous expressions against God, or had conceived blasphemous thoughts in their hearts. But as to bless God is to think and speak reverently of Him, and to ascribe to Him that which is his due; so to curse Him, is to think and speak irreverently, slightingly, or unregardfully of Him, and not to ascribe to Him that which belongs to Him—and thus Job might fear that his sons amidst their feasting might have boasted of their plenty, of the increase of their substance, and have ascribed these blessings rather to their own diligence and industry, than to the providence of God, of which he feared they might have, spoken unbecomingly, as persons in such circumstances are apt to do. And after all, it does not appear that they did even this; only Job feared that they might almost unconsciously have done so; and even he did not fear that they had carried these things to uttered speech, but that they had perhaps thought too slightingly of God “in their hearts,” and had not at all times, in the midst of their temporal blessings, been duly regardful of his honor. Though not literally correct as a translation, Mr. Broughton’s rendering—“too little blessed God in their hearts,”—meets almost exactly the real meaning of the text. We observe, also, that this mitigated view is taken by some of our early translators, who saw the word could not mean bless, yet shrank from using so strong a word as curse. So Rogers (1537), and Bishop’s Bible (1572), have “been unthankful to God in their hertes.”