The sacred writer abruptly takes us away from the land of Uz, and the contemplation of Job’s prosperity and his goodness, and translates us to the court of heaven, and the councils of the Most High, that we may become acquainted with the cause of the sudden and lamentable change that is about to take place in the lot of this exemplary man.
A day has come round in which “the sons of God,” his ministering angels, have returned from their thousand missions of mercy and judgment, to render an account of their proceedings. We behold them standing in reverent homage around the throne, high and lifted up, on which the Holy One appears, Thither also came, but as one apart and alien there—the great Adversary Note: The meanings of the word Satan. of man—his Accuser Note: The meanings of the word Satan.—Satan, scowling aloof, as one there only by strong constraint, or as one hoping to work evil for man in that high place.
To him a voice from amid the glories of that throne speaks, and asks him whence he came. The answer of the evil one is of awful significance to man. “From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it.” Knowing that the contemplation of human goodness and of human happiness was hateful to this being, and that he labored night and day to spoil and blacken it all, the Lord deigned to speak to him of Job, as one eminently great and good; and as such, a living contradiction to the satanic theory of man, and a standing justification, if there were but one such, of the Divine wisdom, in placing him upon the earth, and in preserving him from utter destruction even when he had fallen.
But the devil, who appears to have been the first philosopher of the school of Rochefoucault, insinuates that all Job’s goodness was mere selfishness—all his devotion but a quit-rent for the benefits which had been showered upon him. He was prosperous—therefore he was good. Who would not be good on such terms? He had not been tried—and what merit was there in that virtue which had sustained no proof? Only try him—only afflict him—only turn his prosperity from him—and “he will curse Thee to thy face.” Such is the meaning of Satan’s suggestion; and the Lord, to nullify his argument—to make it plain that goodness may have other foundations, and affliction other results, allows him to oppress for a season His righteous servant—to strip him of all—to bring him very low, but only to hold his person sacred.
Let us learn from this that Satan has no independent power to distress mankind, but as the Lord permits, for the trial of our faith, and for the purification of our souls—and, therefore, for ultimate good, if we but hold fast that which we have. It is only by our failure that the enemy gains any real power over us; and this conviction—that whatever form our trials take, they are essentially from the Lord, should teach us to receive them all as from his hand—a Father’s hand.
But the question will occur to the reader—Is this scene to be taken as real, or otherwise? Having contended for the historical character of the Book of Job, in so far as regards the human circumstances, and the reality of the discussion, some will suppose that we are thereby bound to maintain the reality of this scene on high. But this by no means follows. A true history may contain a parable, an allegory, or a vision, and is not thereby rendered the less historical. Thus, the First Book of Kings (1Ki_22:17-23) contains a vision of heaven very similar, in some respects, to the present, yet the book which contains it is not thereby rendered the less real or historical. That is set forth as a vision, and this may, from the analogy, be regarded as the same; or it may be merely a parabolic representation, like that contained in our Lord’s parable of Lazarus.
There is a work which few men possess, and which, we are assured, that no man alive ever ventured to read through. It is in two mighty folios, containing together between 4000 and 5000 pages of closely-printed matter in double columns. The grandfathers of our grandfathers liked to write such books as these, and even liked to read them. With patient diligence the author returned from day to day, during half a life, to his task—slowly building, brick by brick, the vast monument of his industry—his learning—his fame—and, it may be, sometimes of his folly. But the readers were of like sort. They had none of the modern fancy for small books, which one may hold in the hand without wearying it, as he lounges in his easy chair. They liked to see a great book, which required an effort of strength to lift, and which, therefore, remained a fixture upon their tables for months or years, while, with strong powers of digestion, they returned, day by day, to take in a fresh morsel of the ponderous meal. There belongs to those days a story of this very book—that the son of a reverend divine left his father engaged thereon, when he departed on a voyage to India, and on his return, found him still engaged on the first volume, though the pile of leaves to the left of the reader had, indeed, considerably increased, and that to the right diminished.
All this work is upon the Book of Job—whose patience the author seemed bent on affording the world an opportunity of exemplifying. It is by Joseph Caryl, “sometime Preacher to the Honorable Society of Lincoln’s Inn, and more lately of St. Magnus, near London Bridge.” It was published in 1672, “Printed by Samuel Simmons, and to be sold at his house, next door to the Golden Lion in Aldergate Street.”
The sarcastic Warburton says that Job was “strangled by Caryl;” and Orme calls this process of exposition a mode of treating the word of God, which partakes more of “entombing” than of exhibiting it. Nevertheless, the patience which the work exacts, will, in the end, be rewarded, as well as that of Job. It is not only an elaborate, but a most learned, sound, and pious work—a mine from which he who has courage to explore it, will come back laden with precious things.
As this is in one sense; and perhaps in two senses, the greatest of all the numerous commentaries on Job, we gave been induced to mention it to oar readers thus particularly, as few of them will ever find an opportunity of becoming acquainted with it, as it is both scarce and costly, or rather costly because it, is scarce. Note: How is it that such books ever do become scarce? Why should not all the copies have lasted as well as our own, which is in a perfectly fresh and sound condition? People do not willingly destroy such books as these. What becomes of them? We also mention it as introductory to Caryl’s view of the point before us, which seems to us well worthy of attention, and in which we are strongly inclined to concur.
All this is here set forth and described unto us after the manner of men, by an Anthropopathy; which is, when God expresses himself in his actions and dispensations with and towards the world, as if He were a man. So God here: He presents himself in the business after the manner of some great king sitting upon his throne, having his servants attending him, and taking an account of them, what they have done, or giving instructions and commissions to them, what they shall do. This, I say, God doth here, after the manner of men; for, otherwise, we are not to conceive that God doth make certain days of session with his creatures, wherein He doth call the good and bad angels together about the affairs of the world. We must not have such gross conceits of God; for He needs receive no information from them, neither doth He give them or Satan any formal commission; neither is Satan admitted into the presence of God, to come so near God at any time; neither is God moved at all by the slanders of Satan, or by his accusations, to deliver up His children and servants into his hands for a moment; but only the Scripture speaks thus to teach us how God carries himself in the affairs of the world, even as if He sat upon his throne, and called every creature before Him, and gave each directions what, and when, and where to work, how far, and which way to move in every action.”